Lutheranism

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Lutheranism is a movement within Christianity that began with the theological insights of Martin Luther in the 16th century. Luther's writings launched the Protestant Reformation of the Western church. The "confessions" or "symbolical writings" of the Lutheran Church are contained in the Book of Concord, published in German in 1580, and in Latin in 1584.<ref>Online Edition of the Concordia Triglotta</ref>

Today nearly seventy million Christians belong to Lutheran churches worldwide,<ref>Lutheran World Federation, "Slight Increase Pushes LWF Global Membership to 66.2 Million", The Lutheran World Federation, http://www.lutheranworld.org/ (accessed May 18, 2006).</ref> with some four hundred million Protestant Christians<ref>"Major Branches of Religions Ranked by Number of Adherents," adherents.com http://www.adherents.com/adh_branches.html#Christianity (accessed May 22, 2006).</ref> tracing their history back to Luther's reforming work.

Contents

[edit] History

Lutheranism as a movement traces its origin to the work of Martin Luther, a German monk, priest and theologian who sought to reform the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. The symbolic beginning of the Reformation occurred on October 31, 1517 when Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of the castle church in Wittenberg (at the time, a common means of publishing and debating). Luther's ideas are generally held to have been a major foundation of the Protestant movement.

Luther and his followers began a large exodus from the Roman Catholic Church known as the Protestant Reformation. In the years and decades following Luther's posting of the 95 Theses, large numbers of Europeans left the Roman Church, including the majority of German speakers.

Today, approximately 82.6 million people call themselves Lutheran, while there are an estimated 2.1 billion Christians. Thus, Lutherans make up about 4% of Christians. Several other churches and religious movements have spun off from Lutheranism.

[edit] Doctrine

[edit] The Holy Scripture and the Lutheran Confessions

The formal principle of Lutheranism is the Bible. Lutherans believe the Bible is divinely inspired and is the final authority for all matters of faith and doctrine. Lutherans also hold the Holy Scripture is explained and interpreted faithfully by Scripture itself. This teaching is expanded upon in the Book of Concord, a series of Confessions of faith composed by Lutherans in the 16th Century. Traditionally, 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 "in so far as" they are in agreement with the Bible.

Historically Lutherans regard the Bible to be inerrant or free from error. Today some Lutheran denominations regard the Bible to be essentially a human document and therefore capable of error, particular in historical and scientific matters.

[edit] Central doctrines

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Lutheranism
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The material principle of Lutheranism is the Lutheran doctrine of Justification: salvation by God's grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide) for the sake of Christ's merit alone (Solus Christus). Lutherans believe God made the world, humanity included, perfect, holy and sinless. However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, trusting in their own strength, knowledge and wisdom. Because of this Original Sin—the sin from which all other sins come—all descendents of Adam and Eve (thus, all humans) are born in sin and are sinners. For Lutherans, original sin could be characterized as the "chief sin, a root and fountainhead of all actual sins" (Formula of Concord).

Lutherans teach that sinners cannot do anything (i.e. "good works") to satisfy God's justice. Every human thought and deed is colored by sin and sinful motives. God has intervened in this world because He loves sinners and does not want them to be eternally damned and, by His grace alone — His free gift of mercy — a person is forgiven, adopted as a child of God, and given eternal salvation.

For this reason, Lutherans teach salvation is possible only because of the eternal sacrifice made manifest in the birth, perfect life of obedience, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In the person of Jesus Christ, Lutherans believe God and Man meet. Because He is God, He is sinless and so a worthy sacrifice, without spot or blemish. Because He is a man, He could die. In His death, death is destroyed (in an ultimate sense), our debt paid, and our sins forgiven.

Lutherans believe that individuals receive this gift of salvation by 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 the means of God's grace, the Word and the Sacraments.

Lutherans generally speak of two sacraments: Holy Baptism and the Sacrament of the Altar, the Lord's Supper. The Lutheran catechism teaches that Holy Baptism is a work of God, founded on the word and promise of Christ; thus it is administered to both infants and adults. Lutherans believe that the bread and wine in the Lord's Supper are the true body and blood of Christ given to Christians to eat and drink (1 Cor 10:16,11:27). instituted by Christ Himself.

Lutherans believe that all who trust in Jesus alone can be sure of their salvation, for it is in Christ's work and his promises in which their surety lies. They teach that, at death, Christians are immediately taken into the presence of God in Heaven, where they await the resurrection of the body at the second coming of Christ. Lutherans do not believe in any sort of millennial kingdom of Christ either before, or after, his second coming on the last day.

Although Lutherans believe good works do not satisfy God's justice, this is not to say that good works play no role in the Christian life. Good works always and in every instance spring spontaneously from true faith, and have their true origin in God, not in the fallen human heart or in human striving; their complete absence would demonstrate that faith, too, is absent.

[edit] Ecumenism with other Christians

Lutherans believe in ecumenism, the idea that there is a single Christian church, and a single Christian faith.

In 1999 far-reaching ecumenical relations were established in the ELCA when they joined with the Lutheran World Federation in issuing a joint statement with the Roman Catholic Church titled Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification [1]. While some Lutheran theologians from some Lutheran traditions saw this as a sign the Roman Catholic Church was essentially adopting the Lutheran position other Lutheran theologians disagreed.

In another example, in 1944 the LCMS issued a document known as the "Doctrinal Affirmation," which adopted a definition of "prayer-fellowship" contrary to all its earlier pronouncements. In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, another large controversy occurred with the participation of Rev. David Benke, President of the Atlantic District of the LCMS in the "Prayer for America" service held at Yankee Stadium where Sikhs and Hindus also participated.

In the 1990's, influences from the megachurches of American evangelicalism (eg Hybels' "Becoming a Contagious Christian" from Willow Creek and Warren's "Purpose Driven Life" from Saddleback Church) have become common.

While the blendings of distinctively Lutheran doctrines with those of many other creeds have occurred in Lutheran churches throughout history, conservative Lutheran theologians typically reject these blendings.

[edit] Ecumenism 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 the great majority of Lutheran denominations around the globe.

The perspective, held by Lutheran World Federation (LWF) aligned Lutherans, do not believe any one church to be singularly true in its teachings. This belief protrays Lutheranism as a reform movement rather than as a movement into doctrinal correctness. For that reason, a number of more doctrinally diverse Lutheran denominations, now largely separated from state control, are declaring fellowship and joint statements of agreement with other Lutheran or non-Lutheran Christian denominations.

However Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference and International Lutheran Council aligned Lutherans as well as members of the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS) and Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) maintain that that the orthodox confessional Lutherans are the only church with completely correct doctrine. They teach that while other Christian churches teach orthodox doctrine and have true Christians as members the doctrines of those churches contain errors. More conservative Lutherans strive to maintain historical distinctiveness while emphasizing doctrinal purity alongside Gospel motivated outreach. They state that the LWF Lutherans are practicing "false ecumenism" rather than true ecumenism by desiring church-fellowship outside of actual unity of teaching.

[edit] Religious practices

Many Lutherans place great emphasis on a liturgical approach to worship services; although there have always been substantial non-liturgical minorities (Hauge Lutherans from Norway, contemporary-worship oriented Lutherans today—see paragraph below. 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, 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 riches. Many Lutheran churches are active musically with choirs, hand-bell 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 Eucharist. Holy Communion (or the Lord's Supper) is considered the central act of Christian worship. Lutherans believe that the bread and wine are equally present with the body and blood of Jesus, as opposed to being replaced by or just symbolizing His body and blood. 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)

Initially, in the 1970's, many Lutheran churches held "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, more 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 that individual congregation. Because Luther contemporized the worship service for his community, these congregations see their position as in keeping with "Confessional Lutheranism". Principle examples of this in the ELCA include Family of God, Cape Coral FL., The Well, Charlotte NC, and Church of the Apostles, Seattle WA. Those who hold to the Traditional, more liturgical, styles of worship see typical contemporary styles as straying from Luther's embrace of Christ-centered worship. Where traditional hymns frequently have God as the subject in the lyrics and rich theological subject material, contemporary hymns more often have I as the subject in the lyrics with very little theological content. They also believe that the Cross, the Word and the Sacraments no longer serve as the focus in contemporary worship services.

Catechism, especially children's, is considered fundamental in most Lutheran churches. Almost all maintain Sunday Schools, and many 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 reoccur. Reference: prefaces to Luther's Large and Small Catechisms. 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. In the U.S., some congregations and synods traditionally taught in German, Finnish, or Norwegian, but this custom has been in significant decline since the early/middle 20th century.

Pastors almost always have substantial theological educations, including Greek and Hebrew so that they can refer directly to the canonical Christian scriptures in the original language. Lutheran pastors may marry and have families.

Lutheran Churches in the United States use a number of hymnals as well as electronic projection media. The most widely used are: Christian Worship (WELS), The Lutheran Book of Worship (ELCA and ELCIC), The Lutheran Hymnal (LCMS, WELS & CLC) and Lutheran Worship (LCMS). In 2006, The LCMS approved a new hymnal, Lutheran Service Book, which is now available. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has also approved a new hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, which became available in October 2006. The Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) has The Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary.

[edit] International bodies

The three largest international Lutheran bodies are the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), of which the ELCA and ELCIC are members; 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.

These three communions together consist of about 200 church bodies in about 80 nations.

Examples of the LWF include Lutheran Church of Taiwan (中華民國台灣基督教信義會) and the Taiwan Lutheran Church (基督教台灣信義會).

Examples of the ILC include China Evangelical Lutheran Church (中華福音道路德會) and The Lutheran Church—Hong Kong Synod.

Many Lutheran churches exist throughout the world which are not affiliated with the large LWF, ILC and CELC, such as those affiliated with Augsburg Lutheran Churchesor Church of the Lutheran Confession which are especially active in Africa and India; and those affiliated with the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, which are especially active elsewhere in Asia.

[edit] Throughout the world

Main article: Lutheranism by region

Lutheranism is present on all populated continents.

[edit] Notes

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[edit] See also

[edit] Print sources

  • ELCA Perspective: Braaten, Carl E., Principles of Lutheran Theology Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983.
  • LCMS Historical Perspective: Pieper, Franz. Christian Dogmatics. 3 Volumes. Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1950-1957.

[edit] Footnotes

<references/>

[edit] External links

Church Bodies

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