The complexity is suggested by historian Christopher Dawson's description of the tempestuous Augustinian as "a man of titanic power and energy, who combined…the vernacular eloquence of the demagogue with the religious conviction of the prophet."
A teacher he certainly was, driven by a craving for fidelity to what he took Scripture to mean and incensed at what he regarded as – and what often enough were – abuses existing within the Catholic Church of his day.
But even so, Luther championed doctrinal and practical innovations of his own. So did other Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, Anabaptists and the ever-growing crowd of other new sectarians who took the path he opened up.
Now the principle of sola scriptura – Scripture as the sole rule of faith – became a principle of disunity. As Brad Gregory of Notre Dame explains in his important study The Unintended Reformation (Harvard University Press), from the earliest years of the Reformation the reformers disagreed among themselves about Scripture's meaning and in doing so produced a wide range of conflicting truth claims.
Today, to speak of Lutheranism as if it were a single faith community would be misleading. Leaving it to Lutherans to sort out the relationships among them, I note that in the U.S. alone there are at least three principal Lutheran bodies. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is the largest and most liberal group, but not the only one. Each distinguishes itself from the others in doctrinal and practical terms.
At a time when sentimentality sometimes undermines ecumenical thinking, there are those who ask what difference doctrinal differences among Christians make – isn't God pleased with all of us? The question deserves to be taken seriously, since a certain amount of doctrinal diversity on open questions is not only tolerable but, up to a point, desirable.