Lutherans INTRO

The religious belief held by the oldest and in Europe the most numerous of the Protestant denominations, founded by the Wittenberg reformer, Martin Luther. The term Lutheran was first used by his opponents during the Leipzig Disputation in 1519, and afterwards became universally prevalent. Luther preferred the designation "Evangelical", and today the usual title of the sect is "Evangelical Lutheran Church". In Germany, where the Lutherans and the Reformed have united (since 1817), the name Lutheran has been abandoned, and the state Church is styled the Evangelical or the Evangelical United.

 

 

HISTORY

The Lutheran denomination is the oldest Protestant denomination. It was founded (not deliberately) by Martin Luther, a German monk who sparked the Protestant Reformation with his 95 Theses in 1517. Luther saw contradictions between the Bible and current church practice as well as corruption and abuses within the (Catholic) church, and initially hoped for reform, not schism. When that proved impossible, he continued to spread his teachings despite excommunication and threats to his life.
Martin Luther taught that salvation comes by the grace of God and faith in Christ alone, and the many rituals and works prescribed by the church were not only unnecessary, but a stumbling block to salvation. He rejected such traditions as the intermediary role of priests, priestly celibacy, the Latin Bible and liturgy, purgatory, and transubstantiation, and advocated for the scriptures to be available to the laity in their own language.

Despite his rejection of many aspects of medieval Catholicism, Luther did accept any aspects of church practice that did not contradict the scriptures. Some other Protestant groups, by contrast, rejected any Catholic tradition not explicitly commanded in the Bible. For this reason, Lutheran churches tend to have more of a Catholic "look and feel" than their more austere Presbyterian counterparts.

Those who followed Luther's teachings were called "Lutherans" by their opponents, and they accepted the name for themselves. Lutheranism spread throughout Germany and into Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark). Today, Germany remains predominantly Lutheran, and Lutheranism is the official state church of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Iceland. Eighty-one percent of Finland's citizens are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Finland.
In the 17th century, Lutherans from these countries began to migrate to the United States, bringing their language, culture, and Lutheran faith with them. As the number of Lutheran congregations grew, some began to join together to form "synods," or church bodies.

On January 1, 1988, three American synods, the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches and the Lutheran Church in America, merged to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

In August 1997, the ELCA declared full communion with the United Church of Christ, the Reformed Church of America, and the Presbyterian Church-USA. {2} The ELCA also decided that the differences between it and the Roman Catholic Church in matters of salvation had essentially been resolved.

DOCTRINES & CUSTOMS

Lutheran beliefs are expressed in numerous historical Lutheran confessions, most of which were penned by Luther himself or early Lutheran leaders. These confessions have been collected into the Book of Concord, which is regarded as an authority for doctrine and practice by all Lutherans. ELCA Lutherans view the Book of Concord as an important expression of the Lutheran faith, but not necessarily binding in its entirety for all modern Lutherans. LCMS Lutherans, on the other hand, "regard their doctrinal content as a true and binding exposition of Holy Scripture and as authoritative for all pastors, congregations and other rostered church workers." {3}

The Book of Concord contains the following Lutheran texts :

• The Three Ecumenical Creeds
• The Augsburg Confession
• The Defense of the Augsburg Confession
• The Large Catechism
• The Small Catechism
• The Smalcald Articles
• Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
• The Epitome of the Formula of Concord
• The Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord

The official statement of faith of the ELCA is as follows:

1. This church confesses the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This church confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe

- Jesus Christ is the Word of God incarnate, through whom everything was made and through whose life, death, and resurrection God fashions a new creation.

- The proclamation of God's message to us as both Law and Gospel is the Word of God, revealing judgment and mercy through word and deed, beginning with the Word in creation, continuing in the history of Israel, and centering in all its fullness in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

- The canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the written Word of God. Inspired by God's Spirit speaking through their authors, they record and announce God's revelation centering in Jesus Christ. Through them God's Spirit speaks to us to create and sustain Christian faith and fellowship for service in the world.

2. This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life.

3. This church accepts the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds as true declarations of the faith of this church.

4. This church accepts the Unaltered Augsburg Confession as a true witness to the Gospel, acknowledging as one with it In faith and doctrine all churches that likewise accept the teachings of the Unaltered Augsburg Confession.

5. This church accepts the other confessional writings in the Book of Concord, namely, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Smalcald Articles and the Treatise, the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, and the Formula of Concord, as further valid interpretations of the faith of the Church.

6. This church confesses the Gospel, recorded in the Holy Scriptures and confessed in the ecumenical creeds and Lutheran confessional writings, as the power of God to create and sustain the Church for God's mission in the world.
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Lutheran Practices: Lutherans practice infant baptism and the baptism of believing adults. In the Lutheran perspective, baptism is a sacrament that is commanded by God and "cleanses from sin, snatches us from the power of Satan, and gives us everlasting life."
Some Lutheran churches ordain women to the ministry, while others do not. The LCMS does not, and offers a full explanation of this decision in its online document "What About the Ordination of Women?".

Social/Ethical Issues: Lutheran churches vary in their perspective on homosexuality and their response to homosexuals in the church. The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod "believes that the Bible teaches that homosexual behaviour is contrary to God's Word and will, and seeks to minister to those who are struggling with homosexual inclinations." The ELCA has not yet taken a defined stand on the issue, but has been conducting a study of the issue in recent years. Its current policy is to welcome homosexual persons to participate fully in its congregations and to encourage open conversations about the issue. The ELCA does not currently bless same-sex marriages nor ordain homosexuals to church positions.

LUTHERANISM TODAY

Lutheranism is one of the largest Protestant denominations today. According to the Lutheran World Federation, there are nearly 66 million Lutherans worldwide.
Of these, 36 million live in Europe, 13 million in Africa, 8.4 million in North America, 7.3 million in Asia, and 1.1 million in Latin America.

Source: Religion-Facts, Catholic Encyclopaedia 

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