Lutheran Church
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.
Differences 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 after death.

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.


History
Lutherans 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.

The 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".
Lutherans 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 evangelicals.

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. 

Lutherans are 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.
Lutherans 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.
Although 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
Although 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 them.
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.
Although 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.
The Evangelical 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
The 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.
The 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.
By contrast, 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.


Liturgical Practices
Many 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 church.

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:

"...we 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 XXIV.1)
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:
"A 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." 

Catechism, 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 universities.
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 doctrine.

Pastors usually teach in the common language of the parish, although German was used earlier in the Lutheran church's development.
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.

Some 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."


International bodies
The 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.
Lutheranism 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.


Links

Evangelical Lutheran Church of America
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
Central Resource site for Lutherans
Lutheran Church of Australia

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