What’s a Lutheran?

Around 1500 AD, Martin Luther, a Catholic priest and university professor, began a reforming movement which sought to lift up the centrality of grace, faith, and the Scriptures.  Those who joined him in this reforming movement called themselves evangelical, meaning “of the gospel.”  Their opponents called them “Lutherans” or “Protestants” (“protesting ones”).

Luther was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany and is known as the Father of Protestantism.  He had been a lawyer before becoming an Augustinian monk in 1505 and was ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1507.

During his doctoral studies, he recognized significant differences between what he read in the Bible (the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament) and the theology and practices of the Roman Catholic church of his day.  On October 31, 1517, he posted “95 Theses” for theological debate on the Castle Church door at Wittenberg University.

Due to the recent invention of Gutenberg’s printing press, copies of his 95 Theses spread quickly, even to Rome.  In doing this, Luther began a debate about the Roman church’s practice, preaching, and teaching, the spirit of which continues today.

What started as an academic dispute escalated into “The Protestant Reformation” of the church and, in time, the name “Lutheran” was applied to Luther and his followers.  The Reformation spread throughout the principalities of Germany, other parts of the Holy Roman Empire, and especially into the Nordic countries, where Lutherans pre-dominated.  With immigrations and colonial settlements, Lutheranism spread worldwide with those peoples.  Most  Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation Day on October 31, celebrating the reforming church and its role in European (“western”) history.

Among the principal beliefs of Lutherans worldwide are:

— that we are saved by God’s grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and not by anything we do, earn, or merit.

— that we insist on the Scriptures and worship in the local language of the people. (2)

— that we recognize only two Sacraments, those commonly observed by other Protestant Christians: Holy Baptism and Holy Communion.  (3)

Martin Luther elaborated his Reformation theology later in life in two teaching documents:  the short Small Catechism (which he meant for study and use by parents, youth, and seekers) and the long and detailed Large Catechism (for pastors and teachers).  His closest associate, Phillip Melanchthon, wrote the theological statement, the Augsburg Confession, to explain and defend what the Lutheran Reformers stood for.  Together, these several documents form the central core of Lutheran Christian beliefs and teachings.

Who May Participate? What if I’m not Lutheran?

At Lutheran Church in the Foothills, we recognize a wide fellowship of Christian churches and other communities of faith. We eagerly work alongside them in many ministries and projects.  Historically, Lutherans have been known for their education, health, social, immigration, and relief services made available to all, often in cooperation with or complementing those of other faith communities.

We are delighted to have you participate at Lutheran Church in the Foothills, wherever you are on your journey of faith.  We welcome anyone who wishes to be part of a Christ-centered community that celebrates God’s amazing grace.  Our church is made up of people from many different religious, ethnic and community backgrounds.  Our people and staff welcome and respect you, your questions, your faith and doubts, your talents and life experiences as a gift from God among us.

We believe that there are many ways to express and live out the Christian faith.  We encourage our sister Christian churches and do not see ourselves in competition with them.  We believe that, together with these churches, we form a great symphony that gives glory and honor to our God through Jesus Christ and his Spirit.

NOTES:

1. This differs from the high authority given to church tradition and the magisteria (teachers, bishops, and Pope) in the Roman Catholic church.  Luther and his fellow reformers wrote of this in the Smalcald Articles.

2. Luther himself translated and published the first Bible in German for the people to have and read.  Further, he began the practice of preaching, teaching, and worshipping in German, rather than in Latin, a language understood only by priests, princes, and scholars.

3. The other five sacraments of the Roman Catholic church (penance, confirmation, marriage, ordination, last rites) are regarded as only rites, since they lack a command, a sign and a promise for all Christians, based on the Scriptures alone.