The Lutheran Church is a major part of Protestant Christianity that originates from the teachings of the sixteenth-century German reformer Martin Luther. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the Church caused the Protestant Reformation and divided Western Christianity, though division was not Luther's intention. Martin Luther is also creditted by some for creating the first Christmas Tree, he was said to have decorated a small tree in his house to symbolize the way the stars shine at night.
between Lutherans and the Roman Catholic Church arose over the doctrine
of justification before God. Lutheranism advocates a doctrine of
justification "by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ
alone," which is distinct from the Roman Catholic view. Lutheranism
differs also from the Reformed Churches, which also arose during the
Reformation. Unlike the Reformed Churches, Lutherans have retained many
of the sacramental and liturgical practices of the pre-Reformation
Church. Lutheran theology differs considerably from Reformed theology
in its understanding of divine grace and predestination to eternity
68 million Christians belong to Lutheran churches
worldwide and the world's 400 million Protestant Christians can trace
their traditions, at least in part, back to Luther's reforming work.
believe that the Bible, as a divinely inspired book, is the source of
all revealed divine knowledge. Scripture alone (Sola scriptura) is the
formal principle of the faith, the final authority for all matters of
faith and doctrine.
The Book of Concord, published in 1580,
contains ten documents which Lutherans believe are faithful and
authoritative explanations of Holy Scripture. Besides the three
Ecumenical Creeds, which date to Roman times, the Book of Concord
contains seven credal documents articulating Lutheran theology in the
Reformation era. Lutheran pastors, congregations, and church bodies
agree to teach in harmony with the Lutheran Confessions. Some Lutheran
church bodies require this pledge to be unconditional, while others
allow their congregations to do so "insofar as" the Confessions are in
agreement with the Bible.
Lutherans have understood the Bible as
containing two distinct types of content, termed Law and Gospel (or Law
and Promises). The Law, consisting of biblical commands, firstly
governs all people and orders society and secondly shows Christians
their guilt and need for salvation. The Gospel, consisting of God's
promises of salvation, assures Christians of forgiveness. In the
Lutheran belief, properly distinguishing 'Law' from 'Gospel' allows
Christians to clearly understand the biblical message of justification
by faith alone.
Over the history of the Lutheran tradition,
views on the nature of biblical authority have varied. Martin Luther
and the Book of Concord taught that the Scriptures were the Word of
God, and that it is the only reliable guide for faith and practice. The
17th century is termed the Orthodox period of Lutheran scholasticism,
in which theologians emphasized biblical inerrancy. During the
eighteenth century, Rationalism, which advocated reason rather than
authority as the final source of knowledge, began to influence
Lutheranism. Rationalism brought the authority of the Bible into
question. Lutherans such as Gottfried Leibnitz sought to reconcile
Christianity with the new philosophy, but in general, most of the
Lutheran Laity continued to hold Supernaturalist beliefs. Beginning in
the nineteenth century, Lutheran confessionalism emphasized a stricter
adherence to the authority of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions as
expressed in the Book of Concord. Today, Lutheran groups vary on the
nature and limits of biblical inerrancy, with each group claiming to
represent the true Reformation position. Conservative groups tend to
stress biblical inerrancy, confessionalism, and the orthodoxy of 17th
century Lutheranism, while liberal groups seek to make use of the
higher criticism method of biblical interpretation.
key doctrine, or material principle, of Lutheranism is the doctrine of
justification. Lutherans believe that humans are saved from their sins
by God's grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide).
Lutherans believe that this grace is granted for the sake of Christ's
merit alone (Solus Christus). Traditional Lutheran theology holds that
God made the world, including humanity, perfect, holy and sinless.
However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, trusting in their own
strength, knowledge, and wisdom. Consequently, people are saddled with
Original sin, born sinful and unable to avoid committing sinful acts.
For Lutherans, original sin is the "chief sin, a root and fountainhead
of all actual sins."
Lutherans teach that sinners are not
capable of doing any good works that can satisfy God's justice. Every
human thought and deed is colored by sin and sinful motives. Because of
this, all humanity deserves eternal damnation in hell. God has
intervened in this world because he loves all people and does not want
anyone to be eternally damned. By God's grace, made known and effective
in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a person is forgiven, adopted
as a child and heir of God, and given eternal salvation. For this
reason, Lutherans teach that salvation is possible only because of the
grace of God made manifest in the birth, life, suffering, death, and
resurrection, and continuing presence by the power of the Holy Spirit,
of Jesus Christ .
Lutherans believe Jesus Christ is both by
nature God and by nature man in one person, as they confess in Luther's
Small Catechism that he is "true God begotten of the Father from
eternity and also true man born of the Virgin Mary".
are Trinitarian because they confess in the Athanasian Creed, "we
worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; Neither confounding
the Persons, nor dividing the Substance. For there is one Person of the
Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the
Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one:
the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.". Lutherans reject as error the
idea that the Father and the Son are merely faces of the same person,
because both the Old Testament and the New Testament shows them to be
two distinct persons. Lutherans believe the Holy Spirit proceeds from
both the Father and the Son.
Lutherans believe that individuals
receive this gift of salvation through faith alone — a full and
complete trust in God's promises to forgive and to save. Even faith
itself is seen as a gift of God, created in the hearts of Christians by
the work of the Holy Spirit through his means of grace, which are the
Word and the Sacraments. It is important to note the words — through
faith, not by faith. Faith is seen as an instrument that receives the
gift of salvation, not something that causes salvation. So Lutherans
reject the "decision theology" common among modern
Lutherans accept monergism,
which states that salvation is by God's act alone, and reject the
doctrine that humans in their fallen state have a free will concerning
spiritual matters. Lutherans believe that although humans have free
will concerning civil righteousness, they cannot work spiritual
righteousness without the Holy Spirit, since righteousness in the heart
cannot happen in the absence of the Holy Spirit. Lutherans believe
that the elect are predestined to salvation. Lutherans believe
Christians should be assured that they are among the predestined.
However, they disagree with those that make predestination the source
of salvation rather than Christ's suffering, death, and resurrection.
Unlike some in Calvinism, Lutherans do not believe in a predestination
to damnation. Instead, Lutherans teach damnation is a result of the
unbeliever's rejection of the Holy Spirit.
not dogmatic about the number of the sacraments. Some speak of only two
sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. They teach that Baptism is a
saving work of God, mandated and instituted by Christ and is
administered to both infants and adults. Children born to practicing
Lutheran families are baptized shortly after birth. Absolution is held by some to be a sacrament.
Lutherans hold that within
Holy Communion, also referred to as the Sacrament of the Altar or the
Lord's Supper, the consecrated elements of bread and wine are the true
body and blood of Christ "in, with, and under the form" of bread and
wine for all those who eat and drink it, a doctrine that the Formula of
Concord calls the Sacramental union. Some Lutherans use the term
Eucharist to refer to Communion, noting its use in the Book of Concord;
however, others reject the term on the basis that the word Eucharist
("thankgiving") puts the emphasis on the human response to the
sacrament, which is contrary to the Lutheran emphasis on God's
omnipotence and human powerlessness. They note that in almost every
case, the use of the term in the Book of Concord refers to doctrinal
statements that are part of the Roman Catholic tradition.
believe that all who trust in Jesus alone can be certain of their
salvation, for it is in Christ's work and his promises in which their
certainty lies. The central final hope of the Christian is "the
resurrection of the body and the life everlasting" as confessed in the
Apostles' Creed, but Lutherans also teach that, at death, Christians
are immediately taken into the presence of Jesus, where they await this
resurrection and the second coming of Jesus on the Last Day. Lutherans
do not believe in any sort of earthly millennial kingdom of Christ
either before or after his second coming on the last day.
Lutherans believe that good works do not satisfy God's wrath, this is
not to say that they hold good works to play no role in the Christian
life. Good works are the fruit of saving faith, and always and in every
instance spring spontaneously from true faith. Any true good works have
their true origin in God, not in the fallen human heart or in human
striving; their absence would demonstrate that faith, too, is absent.
Ecumenical relations with other Christians
they decried the division of the Church, early Lutherans tended to
avoid ecumenical fellowship with other Churches, believing that
churches should not share Communion and exchange pastors if they do not
agree upon doctrine.
In the 18th century, there was some
ecumenical interest between the Church of Sweden and the Church of
England. John Robinson, Bishop of London, even fostered a plan for the
union of the English and Swedish churches in 1718, supported by Count
Gyllenberg, Swedish Ambassador to London. The plan fell through because
of the opposition of most Swedish bishops, although Svedberg of Skara
and Gezelius, Bishop of Turku (Finland) were in favour. The reason for
the opposition was that the Church of England was considered too Calvinist for
In 1817, King Frederick William III of Prussia ordered the
Lutheran and Reformed churches in his territory to unite, forming the
Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union. The unification of the two
branches of German Protestantism sparked a great deal of controversy.
Many Lutherans, termed Old Lutherans, chose to leave the established
churches and form independent church bodies. Many left for America and
Australia. The dispute over ecumenism overshadowed other controversies
within German Lutheranism.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries,
German Lutherans cooperated with German Reformed churches on the
frontiers of the newly formed United States. Other American Lutherans,
from the Old Lutheran dissenters, formed churches with stricter
attitudes toward ecumenism. In the twentieth century, many of those
stricter churches have combined into denominations, the major being the
Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod
and the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC).
Lutherans tend to be divided over relationships with other Christian
denominations. Conservative Lutherans assert that
everyone must share the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) in complete
unity (1 Cor. 1:10) before pastors can share each other pulpits or
communicants commune at each other's altars, however
moderate-to-liberal Lutherans are willing to share communion and to
allow preachers from other Christian traditions in their pulpits.
the Lutheran World Federation has been in ecumenical dialogue with the
Roman Catholic Church since shortly after the Second Vatican Council,
it was not until 1999 that meaningfull ecumenical relations were
established between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman
Catholic Church when they jointly issued a statement, the Joint
Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, that declared commonality
of the Roman Catholic and Lutheran doctrines on Justification. Many
Lutheran theologians from some Lutheran traditions saw this as a
sign the Roman Catholic Church was essentially adopting the Lutheran
position, however not all Lutheran theologians agreed.
Lutheran Church in America has been actively involved in ecumenical
dialogues with several denominations (the ELCA is one of the members of
the LWF that signed the JDDJ). Recently, the ELCA has established "full
communion" with several American Churches: the Moravian Church, the
Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church
in America, and the United Church of Christ.
Ecumenical relations among Lutherans
largest organizations of Lutheran churches around the world are the
Lutheran World Federation, the International Lutheran Council, and the
Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. These organizations
together include most of the Lutheran denominations around the world.
Lutheran World Federation (LWF) churches do not believe that
one church is singularly true in its teachings. According to this
belief, Lutheranism is a reform movement rather than a movement into
doctrinal accuracy. Because of this, a number of doctrinally diverse
LWF denominations, now largely separated from state control (those that were established churches), are
declaring fellowship and joint statements of agreement with other
Lutheran and non-Lutheran Christian denominations.
the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference and International
Lutheran Council as well as many unaffiliated denominations like the
Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) maintain that the orthodox
confessional Lutheran churches are the only churches with completely
correct doctrine. They teach that while other Christian churches teach
partially orthodox doctrine and have true Christians as members, the
doctrines of those churches contain significant errors. More
conservative Lutherans strive to maintain historical distinctiveness
while emphasizing doctrinal purity alongside Gospel-motivated outreach.
They state that LWF Lutherans are practicing fake ecumenism by desiring
church fellowship outside of actual unity of teaching.
Lutherans place great emphasis on a liturgical approach to worship, although there have always been substantial non-liturgical
minorities (Hauge Lutherans from Norway, contemporary-worship oriented
Lutherans today for example). Music forms a large part of a
traditional Lutheran service. Lutheran hymns are sometimes known as
chorales, and Luther himself composed hymns and hymn tunes, perhaps the
most famous of which is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" ("Ein feste Burg
ist unser Gott"). Lutheran hymnody is reputed for its doctrinal,
didactic, and musical richness. Many Lutheran churches are active
musically with choirs, handbell choirs, children's choirs, and
sometimes carillon societies (to ring bells in a bell tower). Johann
Sebastian Bach, a devout Lutheran, composed music for the Lutheran
Many Lutherans also preserve a liturgical approach to
the celebration of Communion (or the Lord's Supper), emphasizing the
sacrament as the central act of Christian worship. Lutherans believe
that Jesus' actual body and blood are present in, with and under the
bread and the wine. This belief is called Real Presence or Sacramental
Union and is different than consubstantiation and transubstantiation.
Additionally Lutherans reject the idea that communion is a mere symbol
or memorial. They confess in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:
do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. Among us
the Mass is celebrated every Lord's Day and on other festivals, when
the Sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it,
after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional
liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments,
and other similar things." (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article
In the 1970s, many Lutheran churches began holding
"contemporary" worship services for the purpose of evangelical
outreach. These services were in a variety of styles, depending on the
preferences of the congregation. Often they were held alongside a
traditional service, to cater to those who were not comfortable with
the more liturgical forms. As the Lutheran church enters the 21st
century, some Lutheran congregations are holding "Contemporary Worship"
services as their sole form of worship. Outreach is no longer given as
the primary motivation, rather this form of worship is seen as more in
keeping with the desires of individual congregations. Because Luther
contemporized the worship service for his community, these
congregations see their position as in keeping with "Confessional
Lutheranism" (see Augsburg Confession article VII). Principle examples
of this in the ELCA include Family of God, Cape Coral FL., The Well,
Charlotte NC, Robinwood, Huntington Beach, CA., Hosanna! of Lakeville,
Minnesota, and Church of the Apostles, Seattle WA.. The Lutheran World
Federation, the largest federation of international Lutheran Churches
has in fact strongly recommended in the Nairobe Statement on Worship
and Culture that Lutherans of the world make every effort to bring
their services into a more contextually sensitive position:
given culture's values and patterns, insofar as they are consonant with
the values of the Gospel, can be used to express the meaning and
purpose of Christian worship. Contextualization is a necessary task for
the Church's mission in the world, so that the Gospel can be ever more
deeply rooted in diverse local cultures."
especially children's and yound people's, is considered fundamental in most Lutheran
churches. Almost all maintain Sunday Schools, and some host or maintain
private nursery schools, primary schools, regional high schools and
Life-long catechesis, since Martin Luther's day,
was intended for all ages so that the abuses of the Church of that day
would not recur. Reference: preface to Luther's Large and preface to
Luther's Small Catechism. With the emphasis on proper life-long
catechesis, the Lutheran Church has a heritage rich in theology and
Pastors usually teach in the common language of the
parish, although German was used earlier in the Lutheran church's
Pastors almost always have substantial theological
educations, including Greek and Hebrew so that they can refer directly
to original Christian scripture. Lutheran pastors may marry and have
families. Lutheran denominations (except the
confessional-conservative bodies) encourage female pastors.
Lutheran church bodies forbid membership in Freemasonry, which is
viewed as spreading Unitarianism. A statement of the Missouri
Synod reads, "Hence we warn against Unitarianism, which in our country
has to a great extent impenetrated the sects and is being spread
particularly also through the influence of the [masonic] lodges." A
1958 report from the publishing house of the Wisconsin Evangelical
Lutheran Synod states that, "Masonry is guilty of idolatry. Its worship
and prayers are idol worship. The Masons may not with their hands have
made an idol out of gold, silver, wood or stone, but they created one
with their own mind and reason out of purely human thoughts and ideas.
The latter is an idol no less than the former."
three largest international Lutheran bodies are the Lutheran World
Federation (LWF), which contains 140 member church bodies in 78
countries representing 66.2 million of the world's 69.7 million
Lutherans; and the International Lutheran Council (ILC), of which the
LCMS and the LCC are members; and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran
Conference (CELC), of which the WELS and ELS are members. The Lutheran
World Federation supports the activities of Lutheran World Relief, a
relief and development agency active in more than 50 countries.
There are many
Lutheran churches throughout the world which are not affiliated
with the LWF, the ILC or the CELC, such as those affiliated with
Augsburg Lutheran Churches or Church of the Lutheran Confession which
are active in Africa and India; and those affiliated with
the Evangelical Lutheran Free Church (UAC) or Church of the Lutheran
Brethren, which are also active in Asia.
is present on all populated continents. Countries in which Lutheranism
is the largest religious group are Denmark, Estonia, Norway, Finland,
Germany, Iceland, Latvia, Namibia and Sweden. While Namibia is the only
country outside Europe to have a Lutheran majority, there are significant
Lutheran communities in many other countries, including Australia,
Brazil, Canada, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Madagascar, Papua New Guinea,
Tanzania, and the United States.
Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Central Resource site for Lutherans
Lutheran Church of Australia