Main article: Reformation

Lutheranism is a major Protestant (Christian) denomination which originated as a 16th Century movement led by Martin Luther initially in Germany, Poland (before the Counter-Reformation) and Scandinavia. Its membership far exceeds that of any other Protestant denomination with about seventy million members worldwide. Lutheranism is the most numerous Protestant sect in Europe and enjoys the preferential backing of several national governments, especially in Scandinavia.

Lutherans believe the unlimited accumulation of wealth to be a reward by Providence for good work. See our article on work ethic.

Lutherans generally support the Ecumenical Movement and consider themselves to be both evangelical and catholic (In this sense catholic means universal rather than Roman Catholic. Lutherans historically resist separation of church and state. In Europe most [church]es are overseen by bishops.


The Lutheran Church lacks a consensus position on homosexuality and in fact ordains homosexual pastors. The exception is the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) body which condemns homosexuality. Lutheranism was one of the first religions to permit women priests. Again the exception is the LCMS.


Lutheranism arose at the start of the Reformation era after Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg, Saxony, on October 31, 1517. Disturbed by perceived corruption in the Roman Catholic Church, Luther aimed to correct abuses in the church while conserving its catholic (universal) heritage. His movement originally called itself the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. The name Lutheranism, however, was initially applied by the enemies of Luther during the Leipzig Disputation in 1519.

The Edict of Worms (1521) placed Lutherans under imperial ban, and at the Council of Trent in 1545 the Lutheran view was condemned. In the Peace of Augsburg (1555) each prince in the empire was allowed to decide whether his subjects would be Lutheran or Roman Catholic. "Cuius regio, eius religio" is a Latin phrase meaning "whose region, his religion."

Significant personalities in Lutheranism of the orthodox 1600's included Johann Gerhard, Nikolaus Hunnius, Abraham Calov, and David Hollaz. Lutheranism spawned the Pietist movement in the late 17th Century as a response to arid intellectualism in the orthodox theologians. Reformer Philipp Jakob Spener posited that experience was the basis of all certainty.

18th Century Lutherans Christian Wolff and Johann Semler, influenced by Enlightenment rationalism, advanced the acceptance of reason as the final authority.

In 1817 the union of the Lutherans and the Reformed was the impetus for a revival of Lutheran confessionalism, or assent to the whole of its religious teaching. Prominent figures in the effort to restore historical Lutheranism were C. P. Caspari, E. W. Hengstenberg, and C. F. W. Walther, who immigrating to the United States in 1838.

In the 20th Century the neo-orthodoxy of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth and existentialism have been the most prominent theological developments. The Lutheran World Federation, founded in 1947 and based in Geneva, promotes world unity.

In AmericaEdit

It has been claimed that American Lutheranism does not differ from European Lutheranism. Theologian Gerhard Friedrich Bente noted, "As for American Lutheranism, it is not a specific brand of Lutheranism, but simply Lutheranism in America; for doctrinal Lutheranism, like Christianity, with which it is identical, is the same the world over. Neither is the American Lutheran Church a distinct species or variety of the Lutheran Church, but merely the Lutheran Church in America." [1] However, American Lutheran bodies, having historically taken many forms, are not identical to each other and thus cannot be identical to their European counterparts. Another website notes, "In the United States the Lutherans have been more conservative, and thus far have preserved more of their confessional spirit." [2]

American Lutheranism began as early as 1625 when Dutch, German, and Scandinavian Lutherans settled in what is now New York City. Additionally Swedish Lutherans settled in Delaware by 1638. Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg organized the first synod (council) of Lutherans in America, the Ministerium of North America and Synod of Pennsylvania, in 1748.

With the founding of the Gettysburg Seminary in 1826, Samuel Schmucker helped establish the General Synod, which built colleges, orphanages, homes for the aged, and hospitals in Lutheran communities. Partly because of their rejection of unbiblical teachings such as original sin, private confession, baptismal regeneration, transubstantiation, and "real presence", other Lutheran bodies split from the General Synod.

The LCMS (Missouri Synod) was formed in 1847 and was characterized by adherence to traditional Lutheran texts, affirmation of biblical inerrancy, and opposition to Americanization. They believed that the synod should have no authority over individual congregations, that doctrinal conformity was the prerequisite for Lutheran unity, and that the Bible required agreement in all that the Bible taught. LCMS pastors are still required to affirm that the Lutheran confessions are the most significant explanation of the teachings of Scripture. They also believe that non-believers will go to hell.

In 1867 the General Council was formed as a reaction against the General Synod. They adopted the Akron Rule in 1872, reserving Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran pastors and Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants. The Synodical Conference was formed in 1872 from Midwest confessionalists, and the United Synod, South was formed in 1886.

The first half of the 20th Century saw the formation of new Lutheran bodies and service organizations. The Lutheran Bureau, formed in 1917, provided ordinary Americans with information on the Lutheran heritage. The National Lutheran Commission for Soldiers' and Sailors' Welfare established camps recruited pastors, and raised money. The National Lutheran Council recruited chaplains, supported orphan missions, ministered to armed forces personnel, and aided reconstruction in Europe. The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America (NLCA) was created in 1917 and the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA) in 1918. The American Lutheran Conference (ALC), formed by moderate Midwestern synods as a reaction to the National Lutheran Council, banned cooperation with other Protestants. The Lutheran Home Missions Council of America was formed to overcome ethnic boundaries and to allow for altar and pulpit fellowship.

The ELC (formerly the NLCA) and ALC merged in 1960 to form The American Lutheran Church. The ULCA and Augustana Synod united in 1962 to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). In 1987 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed from a merger of the American Lutheran Church and the LCA and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. In 2000 the ELCA approved an agreement with the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., allowing for a high degree of altar and pulpit fellowship.

Lutheranism is the third largest Protestant denomination in the United States with around eight million parishioners living in the United States and Canada. There are now many Lutheran groups, with the ELCA being the largest at around five million members. In 1997 the ELCA agreed to share full communion with three other Protestant denominations, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America.


Proponents of Lutheranism, a doctrinal and dogmatic church, explain that it revives original Christian concepts. In summary it affirms that justification (salvation) is possible by grace alone (sola gratia) by faith alone (sola fides) in Christ alone. Thus anyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior will be saved. Grace, it holds, is available to humanity through the redeeming work of Christ by his death on the cross and his new life, and Christ is the key to the understanding of the Bible. Although Lutherans affirm the primacy of the Bible as the church's authority (sola Scriptura), they do not consider this bibliolatry on the grounds that God is the first cause of theology and from Scripture theology is known and understood. Faith is as opposed to "work," although faith yields good works.

Lutheranism is considered to be orthodox Protestantism since it agrees with the Catholic and the Greek Churches in accepting the authority of the Scriptures and of the three most ancient creeds, the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian. Lutherans acknowledge the Book of Concord, adopted 1580, which, with the above creeds, consists of Luther's Large Catechism (1529), Luther's Catechism for Children (1529), the unaltered (Melanchthon's) Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Articles of Smalkald (1537), (per some synods) the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1529), and the Form of Concord (1577). The latter is composed of the Epitome of the Articles in Dispute and the Solid Declaration of Some Articles of the Augsburg Confession. The first five texts were written by Luther and co-reformer Philip Melanchthon.

Lutherans retain the Catholic altars and vestments. They accept the Catholic sacraments of (infant) baptism and Eucharist and, according to some sources, penitence, and they believe that Christ's true body and blood are present in the bread and wine. They number the Ten Commandments like Catholics and not like other Protestants.

Lutherans believe in predestination, or election of grace, to salvation. This allows for freedom of human will in mundane matters but not in gifts from God.

Original sin is explained as a positive and total depravity of human nature. Lutherans believe that sin came into the world by the fall of the first man and that all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. They affirm that "men are unable through any efforts of their own or by the aid of 'culture and science' to reconcile themselves to God and thus conquer death and damnation." [3]

Comparison of theologyEdit

Differences between ELCA and LCMSEdit

While the LCMS believes that the Bible is inerrant, the ELCA holds that Scripture is not always accurate on matters of history and science. The ELCA maintains the possibility of dissent to confessional positions that do not deal directly with the Gospel, while the LCMS does not. The ELCA holds that disagreement in some matters of doctrine does not prohibit church fellowship, while the LCMS holds the opposite view.

Differences between LCMS and Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS)Edit

The LCMS makes a distinction between altar and pulpit fellowship and other manifestations of Christian fellowship that do not necessarily require full doctrinal agreement, while the WELS, who broke fellowship with the LCMS in 1961, places virtually all joint expressions of the Christian faith on the same level. The LCMS holds that the office of the public ministry is the one divinely established office in the church, while the WELS denies that it is specifically instituted by God in contrast to other offices. The LCMS has concluded that Scripture does not forbid woman suffrage in the church, while the WELS opposes woman suffrage in the church as contrary to Scripture.

Differences between Lutherans and CatholicsEdit

In contrast to Catholics, Lutherans believe that a person is saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and that Scripture alone has the authority to determine doctrine. In contrast to Catholics, Lutherans do not believe that the Pope has any divine authority or that it is proper based on Scripture to pray to the saints or to view Mary as a mediator between God and man.

Lutherans do not believe that the bread and wine are permanently changed into Christ's body and blood (transubstantiation). Lutherans reject such an attempt to explain the Real Presence and affirm that one must be content to believe the simple words of Jesus as a divine mystery beyond human comprehension or explanation. Lutherans reject any understanding of the Lord's Supper as a sacrificial act on our part.

Unlike Roman Catholic priests, Lutheran clergy may marry.

Record on scienceEdit

Lutheranism's founder believed that science should never supersede faith. Answers in Genesis (AIG), in an article originally appearing in Creation Ministries International's Creation magazine, explains, "Luther did not consider true science should be at odds with Scripture...Science which was at odds with Scripture was therefore false science...Scripture therefore is a greater authority than science, he argued." [4]

The AIG article also notes that Luther believed the inerrancy of Genesis is demonstrated by its simple words. In his work Lectures on Genesis, Luther affirmed, "We know, on the authority of Moses, that longer than six thousand years the world did not exist." [5] Luther was also a geocentrist and critical of the discoveries of Copernicus, as articulated in his Works, Volume 22, c. 1543: "People gave ear to an upstart astrologer/astronomer [Copernicus] who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon...This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."

Centuries later Luther's followers continued to echo his distrust of science. Professor Joe T. Ator notes, "In 1873 the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, published a book with the German title, Astronomische Unterredung (Astronomical Discussion), in which [the author] stated, 'the entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the Earth is the principal body of the universe, that it stands fixed, and the sun and moon only serve to light it.'" [6]

Present-day Lutherans as well tend to place more confidence in Biblical statements than in the findings of modern science. Consider the following quote taken from a post on a Lutheran forum: "I believe all Lutherans as well as all Christians (sic) should believe in 6 day account creation since that is what the Bible teaches...It's very extremely sad that there are Christians that think they can believe what the world teaches as far as creation is concerned." [7]


  1. "Americanizing Lutheranism." Pastoral Meanderings: The Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Parish Pastor. November 14, 2009.
  2. "Lutheranism, Lutheran Church." Believe. 1997-2010.
  3. "Of Man and Sin." The Luthern Church--Missouri Synod. 1973-2000.
  4. "Luther on Evolution." Answers in Genesis. 2009.
  5. "Martin Luther: The damned whore, Reason." Jesus Cult
  6. "What is Science?" Apologia.
  7. "Creationist Lutherans." The Wittenberg Trail. Comment by Kari on December 13, 2008

External linksEdit

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