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What Lutherans Believe






 
 
Ascension Lutheran Church
 
 Who Are the Lutherans?

 A Summary statement about Lutherans

The Lutheran Church is both the oldest and largest protestant Church in the world. There are more than sixty million Lutherans in the world. Only the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches claim more followers.

The Lutheran Church came into being following the attempt of Dr. Martin Luther to reform the  Roman Catholic Church almost 500 years ago. When this attempt failed those who looked to Luther for guidance formed the Lutheran Church. In forming their new Church, Lutherans, as they came to be known (against Dr. Luther's wishes!), simply went back to the core teachings of Holy Scripture, keeping what was God pleasing and Biblical and rejecting what was not. This emphasis on Scripture alone was one of the three main themes of the Reformation.

The other two themes of the Reformation, grace alone and faith alone, led Lutherans to a clear understanding of God's Law and Gospel. The Law, shows us our sin and our need for a saviour. The Gospel shows us our Saviour from sin, Christ Jesus. Lutherans proclaim the truth of what St. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:8 and 9 . . . it is by grace you have been saved, through faith and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.

Our congregation is a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Ascension Lutheran Church has been ministering to the people of Albert Lea and area for over 50 years. We invite you to come and visit us!

Who is Dr. Martin Luther?

Dr. Martin Luther (1483 - 1546) was born in Eisleben, Germany on November 10, 1483 to Hans and Margaret Luther. His father was a copper miner from the mining area of Mansfeld. Luther received a sound education at Mansfeld, Magdeburg, and Eisenach and in 1501, at the age of 17, he enrolled at the University of Erfurt, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1502 and a master's degree in 1505. Luther intended to study law, as his father wished. In the summer of 1505, however, he suddenly abandoned his studies, sold his books, and entered the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt. The decision surprised his friends and appalled his father. Later in life, Luther explained his decision: "Today is the very date on which I entered the convent at Erfurt," and he began to tell the story of conditions under which he had taken his vow: how nearly fourteen days before, on the road near Stotternheim not far from Erfurt [one mile north] he was so frightened by a thunderbolt that in terror he shouted: "Help, dear Anne, I will become a monk." (Schwiebert, E.G. Luther and His times, CPH:St. Louis, 1950, pg. 137) Fear of sin and God's judgment had struck terror into Martin Luther but he was unable to find the peace he was looking for in the monastery. In spite of this, Luther determined to keep his vows. He was ordained a (Roman Catholic) priest in 1507 celebrating his first Mass on May 2, 1507. Luther continued his studies and in 1512 he received his doctorate (Biblicus, Formatus, Sententiarius, ThD.) and took over the chair of biblical theology at Wittenberg, a post he held until his death in 1546.

   One day in his tower room at Wittenberg University, Luther found the answer to the question that plagued him (How may I render God gracious to my soul?) . . . he said, "It was like the gates of heaven opened to me." Reading St. Paul's epistle to the Romans (1:17), "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.", he came to this conclusion: "Human beings can't earn salvation by what they do. They gain salvation through faith in Christ, through what God has done for them through his Saviour." Luther discovered that peace with God (Salvation) wasn't something we earn (by our good works), or buy for a price (indulgences), it was God's gift!

Luther couldn't keep this good news to himself. God was a loving God! God's salvation was His free gift! . . . Appalled by the corruption and false doctrine that permeated the church Dr. Luther began the fight to reform the Church by attacking the sale of indulgences, letters of pardon from punishment of sin which the Pope Leo X had authorized for the building of St. Peter's Church in Rome. Luther demanded that the church of his day be cleansed of secular abuses and that the authority for doctrine and practice be Scripture rather than Popes or Church Councils. To bring some these issues on the floor for debate, on October 31st, 1517, he nailed 95 Theses (points of argument) on the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany. But what was intended as a university discussion became an argument that split the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Labeled a heretic by the Edict of Worms, on May 26th, 1521, Luther was excommunicated by the Pope and banished and condemned by Emperor Charles the Fifth. He was spirited away for a time (for safeties sake) by the Duke Fredrick of Saxony. But he could not stay away from his work. And so he returned to his public ministry in Wittenberg.

  On June 13, 1525, Dr. Luther married Katharina von Bora (1499-1552), a former nun. The marriage was happy, and his wife became an important supporter in his busy life. Concerning her Luther writes: "I would not want to exchange my Kate for France nor for Venice to boot". Their marriage was blessed with six children. Concerning children Dr. Luther writes: "The best thing in married life, for the sake of which everything ought to be suffered and done, is the fact that God gives children and commands us to bring them up to serve Him."

In spite of his condemnation as heretic, Luther did not die at the stake as did his forerunner John Hus. Rather, he spent his years under the ban of the Emperor raising his family, teaching, preaching and writing. One of his major accomplishments was the translation of the Bible into the language of the people (German) so that all could understand it!

Luther lived to see the gospel triumph as the goods news of God's love spread throughout Europe and the world! Luther set out to find peace with God ó a God that he felt was an angry judge ó what Luther discovered in the pages of Holy Scripture was a loving God, a God who so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son to be our Saviour; a God who gives us peace (Salvation) as a free gift, by grace through faith! Today this good news is proclaimed throughout the world by those who call themselves Lutherans.

Martin Luther's Seal

Dr. Martin Luther's seal expresses his theology and his faith. He designed it himself.

In the center is a black cross indicative of Christ's dreadful sacrifice on the cross for every sinner who ever lived.

The cross is in the center of a red heart, to show that faith causes love, joy and peace to grow in the human heart.

The red heart is on a white rose (Luther's favorite flower) because white is the color of angels and blessed spirits.

The white rose is against a blue-sky background to symbolize the Christian's hope for the coming joys of heaven.

The seal is enclosed in a gold ring, showing that the bliss of heaven is unending.

Some Brief Definitions for Christianity and Lutheranism

Who is Jesus Christ?

Jesus is God's son, sent by God to become human like us. In his life and being he broke through the prison of sinfulness and thus restored the relationship of love and trust that God intended to exist between himself and his children. Though he is eternal, with God at the beginning of time, he was born on earth of a virgin, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was at once truly God and truly human.

The man, Jesus of Nazareth, lived and died in Palestine during the governorship of the Roman administrator, Pontius Pilate; we believe him to be the Messiah chosen by God to show his love for the world. He is God, yet with all the limitations of being human. His relationship to God, however, was not one of sin but rather of perfect obedience to the Father's will. For the sake of a sinful world, Jesus was condemned to death on the cross.

But death could not contain him. On the third day after his execution, the day Christians observe as Easter, Jesus appeared among his followers as the risen, living Lord. By this great victory God has declared the Good News of reconciliation. The gap between all that separates us from our Creator has been bridged. Thus, Christ lives today wherever there are people who faithfully believe in him and wherever the Good News of reconciliation is preached and the Sacraments administered.

What is the Church?

The Christian church is made up of those who have been baptized and thus have received Christ as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Sometimes it is referred to as "the Body of Christ." Lutherans believe that they are a part of a community of faith that began with the gift of the Holy Spirit, God's presence with his people, on the day of Pentecost. The church, regardless of the external form it takes, is the fellowship of those who have been restored to God by Christ. Indeed, to be called into fellowship with Christ is also to be called into community with other believers.

The church is essential to Christian life and growth. Its members are all sinners in need of God's grace. It has no claim on human perfection. The church exists solely for the hearing and doing of God's Word. It can justify its existence only when it proclaims the living Word of Christ, administers the Sacraments and gives itself to the world in deeds of service and love. Most Lutherans recognize a wider fellowship of churches and are eager to work alongside them in ecumenical ministries and projects.

Why a Lutheran church?

Martin Luther (b. November 10, 1483, in Eisleben, Germany, d. February 18, 1546 in Eisleben) is known as the Father of Protestantism. He had studied to become a lawyer before becoming an Augustinian monk in 1505, and was ordained a priest in 1507. While continuing his studies in pursuit of a Doctor of Theology degree, he discovered significant differences between what he read in the Bible and the theology and practices of the church. On October 31, 1517, he posted a challenge on the church door at Wittenberg University to debate 95 theological issues. Luther's hope was that the church would reform its practice and preaching to be more consistent with the Word of God as contained in the Bible. 

What started as an academic debate escalated to a religious war, fueled by fiery temperaments and violent language on both sides. As a result, there was not a reformation of the church but a separation. "Lutheran" was a name applied to Luther and his followers as an insult but adopted as a badge of honor by them instead.

Lutherans still celebrate the Reformation on October 31 and still hold to the basic principles of theology and practice espoused by Luther, such as Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Sola Scriptura:

We are saved by the grace of God alone -- not by anything we do; Our salvation is through faith alone -- we only need to believe that our sins are forgiven for Christ's sake, who died to redeem us; The Bible is the only norm of doctrine and life -- the only true standard by which teachings and doctrines are to be judged. 

Another of Luther's principles was that Scriptures and worship need to be done in the language of the people.

Many Lutherans still consider themselves as a reforming movement within the Church catholic, rather than a separatist movement, and Lutherans have engaged in ecumenical dialogue with other church bodies for decades.

Luther's Small Catechism, which contains teachings on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, Holy Baptism, Confession and Absolution, Holy Communion and Morning and Evening Prayers, is still used to introduce people to the Lutheran faith, as is the Augsburg Confession. These and other Lutheran confessional documents included in the Book of Concord may be ordered from the ELCA Publishing House at 800/328-4648.

The Only True Religion?

"Do Lutherans believe theirs is the only true religion?" This question was once put to the late Dr. Elson Ruff, editor of The Lutheran. His answer was, "Yes, but Lutherans don't believe they are the only ones who have it. There are true Christian believers in a vast majority of the churches, perhaps in all."

How Do Lutherans Look upon the Bible?

To borrow a phrase from Luther, the Bible is "the manger in which the Word of God is laid." While Lutherans recognize differences in the way the Bible should be studied and interpreted, it is accepted as the primary and authoritative witness to the church's faith. Written and transcribed by many authors over aperiod of many centuries, the Bible bears remarkable testimony to the mighty acts of God in the lives of people and nations. In the Old Testament is found the vivid account of God's covenant relationship to Israel. In the New Testament is found the story of God's new covenant with all of creation in Jesus.

The New Testament is the first-hand proclamation of those who lived through the events of Jesus' life, death, and Resurrection. As such, it is the authority for Christian faith and practice. The Bible is thus not a definitive record of history or science. Rather, it is the record of the drama of God's saving care for creation throughout the course of history.

What Do Lutherans Believe About Creation?

Lutherans believe that God is Creator of the universe. Its dimensions of space and time are not something God made once and then left alone. God is, rather, continually creating, calling into being each moment of each day.

Human beings have a unique position in the order of creation. As males and females created in God's image, we are given the capacity and freedom to know and respond to our creator. Freedom implies that we can choose either positively or negatively to respond to God. Doubtlessly, this is God's most generous gift to humankind.

"Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," an ELCA Statement on caring for God's creation, is available from the ELCA Distribution Service (800/328-4648) free (+ postage and handling). Order Code: 67-1185.

Where Do Lutherans Stand on the Question of Sin? 

Lutherans believe that all people live in a condition which is the result of misused freedom. "Sin" describes not so much individual acts of wrongdoing as fractured relationships between the people of creation and God. Our every attempt to please God falls short of the mark. By the standard of the Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a classic summary, God expresses his just and loving expectations for creation, and our failure to live up to those expectations reveals only our need for God's mercy and forgiveness.

What Sacraments Do Lutherans Accept?

Lutherans accept two Sacraments as God-given means for penetrating the lives of people with his grace. Although they are not the only means of God's self-revelation, Baptism and Holy Communion are visible acts of God's love.

In Baptism, and it can be seen more clearly in infant Baptism, God freely offers his grace and lovingly establishes a new community. In Holy Communion -- often called the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist --those who come to the table receive in bread and wine the body and blood of their Lord. This gift is itself the real presence of God's forgiveness and mercy, nourishing believers in union with their Lord and with each other.

Do Lutherans Believe in Life After Death?

While there is much we do not and cannot know about life beyond the grave, Lutherans do believe that life with God persists even after death. Judgment is both a present and future reality, and history moves steadily towards God's ultimate fulfillment.

This of course is a great mystery, and no description of what life may be like in any dimension beyond history is possible. Anxiety for the future is not a mark of faith. Christians should go about their daily tasks, trusting in God's grace and living a life of service in his name.

What Must a Person Do to Become a Christian?

Jesus said, " Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die." (John 11:25-26)

What Must a Person Do to Become a Lutheran?

To become a Lutheran, only Baptism and instruction in the Christian faith is required. If you are already baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it will be necessary only to attend a membership class in a Lutheran congregation and thus signify your desire to become a part of its community. Active members of other Lutheran congregations usually need only to transfer their membership.

For further information, call the Lutheran congregation nearest you or use CLOSE, the Congregation Lookup System.

Adapted from "What Lutherans Believe," published by Evangelical Outreach, Division for Parish Services of the former Lutheran Church in America, now out of print.