What Do Lutherans Believe?
In a nutshell, Lutherans believe that “God so loved the world (that is, sinners like you and me) that he gave his only Son (that is, Jesus Christ), that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
According to the constitution of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, we “confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and the Gospel as the power of God for the salvation of all who believe.”
Furthermore, we accept “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.” The Lutheran Church is a “confessional” church. This means that what we believe and proclaim is based on the foundations laid by the original church leaders.
First among these writings of the church are the historical creeds: The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, which have guided the church from the early centuries and continue to be the touchstone of our faith. Other more specific Lutheran writings are contained in the Book of Concord, including the Augsburg Confession, Luther’s Small Catechism, and other statements of faith.
The Lutheran Church is not a sect, dependent on some individual for direction and interpretation. It is a part of a long tradition and rich heritage whose basic beliefs cannot stray. The Lutheran Church is a “liturgical” church. This means that our worship service is based on the pattern of worship established in the early centuries of the church.
There are two main elements: the Word of God (which we read from the Bible and proclaim through the sermons) and the Sacraments (Baptism and the Lord’s Supper). Other elements of the liturgical service include prayers, sung responses, and hymns. The readings from the Bible are taken from an ecumenical 3-year cycle of passages from the Old and New Testaments.
The Lutheran Church is an “ecumenical” church. This means that the Lutheran Church does not think it has a market on the truth of the gospel. Other Christian denominations also teach and believe in the centrality of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the means of our salvation. We welcome visitors from other churches at our altar to receive Holy Communion, as we come together to receive the body and blood of our Lord.
What does Luther's Seal symbolize?
While a professor at Wittenberg, Luther devised this seal which he declared was meant to be "expressive of his theology." This explanation is the gist of a letter written to his friend, Herr Spengler, town clerk of Nuremberg.
The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black, within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucified saves us. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness."
Now, although the cross is black, mortified, and intended to cause pain, yet it does not change the color of the heart, does not destroy nature -- i.e., does not kill, but keeps alive. "For the just shall live by faith," -- by faith in the Savior.
But this heart is fixed upon the center of a white rose, to show that faith causes joy, consolation and peace. The rose is white, not red, because white is the ideal color of all angels and blessed spirits.
This rose, moreover, is fixed in a sky-colored ground, to denote that such joy of faith in the spirit is but an earnest and beginning of heavenly joy to come, as anticipated and held by hope, though not yet revealed.
And around this ground base is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all joys and treasures, since gold is the best and most precious metal. Christ, our dear Lord, He will give grace unto eternal life.
Amen. -Martin Luther
While we consider ourselves a part of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” established by Jesus Christ and guided by his apostles in the first century, our specific origins as a denomination are traced back to Germany in the 15th century. There was a man named Martin Luther who had a spiritual yearning like other reformers of his generation.
Luther’s concept of God, based on teachings by his parents and the church, was that God was angry judge determined to punish anyone for any infraction of God’s holy laws. Luther was terrified of Christ and did all he could to please him and earn his favor. He thought that by joining a monastery and becoming a monk, he would lead a holy life and find peace with God. When that attempt failed, Luther became a priest. He himself went to confessions daily, he fasted frequently, and he made pilgrimages, even to Rome itself. Nothing availed.
When a university was founded in Wittenberg, Luther, a bright young man, was sent by the church to earn his doctorate in theology and become a professor there. It was during this time that Luther immersed himself in the study of the Bible, especially the New Testament in its original language of Greek. There Luther discovered that God is a gracious God, and that it is by his grace and our faith that we are saved. Over and over Luther found this good news proclaimed in the scriptures, and he said that it was as if the gates of paradise had opened before him. Finally Luther found peace with God.
Luther could not keep this discovery to himself. He preached it. He taught it. He wrote about it. He could not contain himself. Unfortunately the church at that time did not share his enthusiasm. It was especially over the church’s practice of selling indulgences that triggered a red-hot debate that led to Luther’s excommunication from the church.
On October 31, 1517, on the eve of All Saints’ Day, Luther posted 95 Theses on the church door of the church at the University of Wittenberg. The wooden door served as the bulletin board for students and teachers. With Guttenberg’s recent discovery of the printing press, copies of these issues spread like wildfire. When they reached the pope, Luther was called on the carpet. The showdown came in 1521 in the town of Worms. There before the local Archbishop and the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles II, faced Luther and demanded that he recant, that is, to reject all his writings which had been laid out on a table before him. Luther’s refusal resulted in his excommunication from the church, and being banned from the empire. He was officially a man without a country and without salvation. Yet Luther stood his grounds. “My conscience is captive to the Word of God,” was part of his reply.
It was not Luther’s plan or desire to break away from the church. He wanted to reform it. Others had attempted to do so before him and were burned at the stake. Luther might have had a similar fate had it not been for some friends in high places who whisked him away to the safety of the Wartburg Castle. There he translated the New Testament into German, and after ten months returned to stay at the University of Wittenberg. Luther continued to write, teach, and preach until his death in 1546 at the age of 62, leaving a wife and ten children.
Many people resonated with his teachings and followed him. They were nicknamed “Lutheran” by his opponents. Many felt his reforms did not go far enough. The Catholic Church responded in succeeding years with the “Counter-Reformation” movement, resulting in many reforms within the church. But the church would never be the same again. The Catholic Church remained strong in southern Europe, while Lutherans and other Protestant churches spread into northern Europe and Scandinavian countries.
The guiding principles of the reformation can be summarized in three phrases:
“Scripture Alone.” Ultimate authority resides not with the church or any human being, but with the Word of God as revealed in the Bible.
“Grace Alone.” It is by the grace of God that we are saved. Grace is the unconditional, unmotivated, unmerited love of God for sinners.
“Faith Alone.” Salvation and new life in Christ is ours not by our own efforts or good works. Salvation is a gift from a gracious God, and we receive it through faith.