History of Lutheranism
Lutheranism as a movement traces its origin to the work of Martin Luther, a German religious scholar who sought to reform the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in the early 16th century. The symbolic beginning of the Protestant Reformation occurred when Luther posted his 95 theses (95 points on which he challenged Roman Catholic dogma and practices) on the door of the Wittenberg Church in Wittenberg, Germany, on October 31st, 1517. What started as an academic debate quickly escalated into a religious war, fueled by the political climate of the Holy Roman Empire and strong personalities on both sides.
Followers of Luther's "Evangelical" movement were given the derogatory label "Lutherans", which was adopted as a badge of pride amongst the followers.
Luther and his followers sparked a large exodus from the Roman Catholic Church by many Europeans. In the years and decades following Luther's posting of the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church, the vast majority of Germanic people left the Roman Catholic Church (the only Germanic people who remained in the Catholic church were those under the domain and/or influence of Roman Catholic Austria). Because Luther sparked this mass movement, he is known as the father of the Protestant Reformation, and the father of Protestantism in general.
The Lutheran movement was bolstered by the work of several reformers, primarily among the early leaders was Philipp Melanchthon (a colleague of Luther's at the Leucorea University in Wittenberg), Huldreich Zwingli and John Calvin (the founder of the Calvinist movement).
Lutheranism would become known as a separate movement after the 1530 Diet of Augsburg, which was convened by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in order to settle religious differences amongst his subjects. At the Diet, Philipp Melanchthon presented a written summary of Lutheran beliefs called the Augsburg Confession. Several of the German princes (and later, kings and princes of other countries) signed the document to define "Lutheran" territories. These princes would ally to create the Schmalkaldic League in 1531, which lead to the Smalcald War that pitted the Lutheran princes of the Smalcald League against the Roman Catholic forces of Charles V.
After the conclusion of the Smalcald War, Charles V attempted to impose religious doctrine on the territories that he had defeated. However, the religious movement was not defeated. In 1577, the next generation of Lutheran theologians gathered the work of the previous generation to define the doctrine of the persisting Lutheran church. This document is known as the Formula of Concord, and in 1580, all documents were bound and distributed in a volume titled The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. This book is still used today, and is referred to as the Book of Concord.
Today, approximately 6 out of every 100 Christians in the world is a Lutheran, and 1 out of every 5 Protestants in the world is a Lutheran
Lutheran Religious Beliefs
While there are several Lutheran denominations worldwide, all Lutheran churches base their doctrine on the confessional writings contained in the Book of Concord. (For this reason, Lutherans who follow the Book of Concord closely, especially conservative Lutherans, may refer to themselves as Confessional Lutherans, even though the Book of Concord can be widely interpreted.)
Lutheran religious beliefs are typically summarized by the motto "Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura":
Sola gratia: "Grace Alone" - Lutherans believe that salvation occurs only by the grace of God, not by actions that we may take.
Sola gratia and Sola fide are usually opposed with works salvation. Works salvation states that by doing good works, men repay the debt of sin that they have incurred before God. To the contrary, Lutherans believe that sinners cannot be saved by good works, since they are bound to their sinful and evil nature. Lutherans believe that only through grace, and faith in Christ as their one true savior can one be saved.
Some Lutheran denominations take Sola scriptura as a statement of Biblical inerrancy – a topic that has been a matter of contention for hundreds of years. Luther himself could be critical of the writings contained in the Bible: For example, Luther once referred to the Book of James as an "epistle of straw", as it contains ideas about salvation that Luther felt may contradict some of the writings of the Apostle Paul.
The Lutheran view of salvation can be summarized by saying:
For an overview of Lutheran theology, see Braaten, Carl E., Principles of Lutheran Theology, Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1983, ISBN
Lutheran Religious Practices
Lutherans generally place great emphasis on a liturgical approach to worship services; music also 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"). Many Lutheran churches have active music ministries, including 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.
Children's ministries are 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. Lutheran pastors and staff are repeatedly reminded that most evangelism occurs within the church, with children.
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.
Lutherans believe in the idea that there should be a single Christian church, and a single Christian faith. This belief is ingrained in the Lutheran confessions, and reflects the history of Lutheranism as a reform movement rather than a separatist movement.
For that reason, a number of modern Lutheran denominations, now largely separated from state control, are reaching out to other Lutheran denominations as well as other Christian denominations.
The largest organizations of Lutheran churches around the world are the Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council, which include the great majority of Lutheran denominations around the globe.
Lutheran Charitable Organizations
As Lutherans believe that "good works" are a sign of faith, Lutherans support several charitable organizations, on local and global scales.
The largest worldwide organization is Lutheran World Relief, which focuses on charity work, as well as disaster response.
Thrivent (formerly AAL/LB) and Lutheran Women's Missionary League (LWML) are also important organizations.
Lutheranism in the United States
In the U.S., congregations are grouped into over 20 different denominations. The three largest Lutheran bodies in the United States are, in order of size: the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the more conservative Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the even more conservative Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). These denominations provide seminaries, pastoral care, and Sunday School and liturgical materials. Local congregations contribute funds to support them and receive services and materials. Denominations help to start new congregations affiliated with them.
The ELCA is divided into 64 geographical and 1 non-geographical synods. The ELCA has "Full Communion" agreements with The Episcopal Church (named Called to Common Mission), the Moravian Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Churches in the United States. The ELCA permits the ordination of women to the pastoral office, and is currently studying the issue of homosexuality, and will decide at its 2005 Churchwide assembly whether to bless same-sex marriage and clergy in active same-sex relationships.
The LCMS and WELS each constitute a single synod for the entire denomination. The LCMS and WELS permit only qualified men to serve as pastors, and have affirmed marriage as being between one man and one woman. Neither the LCMS or the WELS permit active homosexuals to serve in the ministry.
U.S. denominations differ on doctrine and practice. Doctrinally the denominations differ primarily based on the degree of authority they place on the written text of Scripture. The ELCA subscribes to the "historical-critical" method of Scripture interpretation, which attempts to interpret the text discounted for the historical, cultural, or scientific limitations or biases imposed by the original writers. Many members of the ELCA believe that higher criticism represents the best efforts of modern scholarship.
The LCMS and WELS follow the traditional "historical-grammatical" method of interpreting the Scripture text, which seeks to understand the text as it is written within the context of history, culture, and language.
English-language publishers of books on Luther and Lutheran theology
Modern Lutheranism in Europe
Lutheranism is the state religion of several Scandinavian countries in Northern Europe, including Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland. In these countries, the churches are supported directly by taxes. With the extension of the European Union, the status of state churches is largely revised; they remain a State Church but win greater autonomy. In Sweden, Lutheranism was the state religion up until the year 2000. The church is no longer supported by taxes, but the fees are collected similarly to taxes. Lutheranism is also prominent in Estonia, and Latvia.
Notably, the European churches have very low attending memberships at the offices; due to the history of those European churches, most parts of them knew persecution during the 17th and 18th centuries. The church attendance on Sunday is not decisive and houses offices are still perennial, particularly in southern Europe. Most people feel it is more important to attend to the lot of conference and training and Biblical studies. So, in northern Europe many attend religious services only for baptisms, confirmations, weddings, and funerals. Confirmation is treated seriously and is usually delayed until the end of the high school courses. The Lutheran confirmation training usually constitutes the largest exposure of Northern Europeans to Christian doctrines.
Except in Northern Europe (see above), very few seminaries are state-supported. Due to large agreements like the Concorde de Leuenberg (1962), involving many churches raising from the Reformation the training for students in theology embraces a wide range of theologies including modern and contemporary movements in biblical criticism and theology.
Many major seaports contain an outpost of the Norwegian Lutheran church to provide aid, social opportunities and pastoral care for visiting Norwegian seamen. Few Norwegian Lutheran pastors achieve their pastoral care in foreign countries such as France.
Number of Lutherans Worldwide
Europe – 75 million
North America – 18 million
Africa – 11 million
Asia – 7 million
Latin America & Brazil – 3 million
Total – 114 million
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