How Lutherans Got Started
“What Do Lutherans Believe?
A Study Guide in Christian Teaching for Adults,” published by Oshkosh Church Supply, Oshkosh,
Wisconsin, Copyright © 1992 by Walter W. Snyder and Walter P. Snyder. Available by calling
1-800-236-8724. This page Copyright © 1996-97, 2003 by Walter P. Snyder. & from
Lutherans take their name from Martin Luther, a German priest who sought to reform the
Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500’s and return the church to its biblical foundation.
Luther’s writing, debating, preaching and teaching sparked the Protestant Reformation.
Through his study of the Bible, Luther helped the Christian Church rediscover the basic
God is loving and that He offers forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift because of
Jesus Christ without any merit or good works by us.
Luther taught that people — no matter how hard they try — cannot earn God’s
forgiveness or a place in heaven.
It is a gift from God that people receive through faith in Jesus Christ.
Lutherans trust the Bible as the ONLY norm for faith and life.
Lutherans often refer to three “solas” (Latin for “alone”) as a summary of the faith
that gives them hope:
Grace Alone —
God loved the world, though we do not deserve His love.
He sent His Son to love the unlovely and save the ungodly.
Grace alone can empower with faith and cause us to live holy lives.
God’s grace is extended to us that we might live in His presence and know His
plan for our lives, both in this world and the next.
Faith Alone —
Jesus has provided for our forgiveness and life; those who hear this promise
and believe it, have what it offers. People don’t “get” faith by their own effort
or reason; God gives it as He gives us His promises.
Scripture Alone —
The Bible is the only reliable source that shows God’s will and the only basis for faith.
Integral to who we are is our understanding and application of Law and Gospel.
The Bible gives the Law, showing God’s expectation of people and the terrible
consequences for not following His commands.
But the Bible also reveals the Gospel — the “good news” of God’s love and forgiveness.
In the Beginning
The “Birthday of the Reformation” is often listed as 31 October 1517,
when Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the Wittenberg Castle Church’s door.
This call for a debate with the established church started a chain reaction of change in
Following the lead of Luther, contemporary and later reformers continued to write
defenses and position papers.
With the Nicene, Athanasian, and Apostles’ Creeds, some of these writings were gathered
in the Book of Concord in 1580.
These statements of belief are also known as the Lutheran Confessions, and you can find
them and more at Project Wittenberg.
While the Reformation may have officially begun in 1517, it built upon earlier attempts at
reform of an often corrupt and venal church.
Savonarola in Italy and Hus in Bohemia led unsuccessful efforts at change.
Meanwhile, the Lutheran Church itself really began to take form with the presentation of
the Augsburg Confession on 25 June 1530,
perhaps the official “Birthday of the Lutheran Church.”
From this time on, differences with Rome were clear, and both sides saw little hope in
The Lutheran Reformation spread to Scandinavia, and influenced the reform movement
of John Calvin in France and Switzerland.
It also had some impact on the English Reformation, although England saw more political
than religious change.
A Time of Change
[1509 to 1564] began his reformation in France,
and later moved it to Switzerland.
He is a chief founder of the Reformed bodies
a student of Calvin, was
the organizer of the Presbyterian
Church,which began in Scotland.
brought about the formation of the
Church in England.
of England instituted the reforms which resulted in the
formation of the Methodist Church.
The AUTHORIZED [KING JAMES’] VERSION of the Bible was printed in 1611.
From 1546 to 1563, at intermittent periods, the Roman Catholic Church held
the COUNCIL OF TRENT, which served as the beginning of their COUNTER-
REFORMATION. All Luther’s teachings were condemned here.
The THIRTY YEARS’ WAR [1618-48] pitted the Roman Catholic and Protestant
Churches against each other in open warfare.
King of Sweden, was the protector of Lutheranism,
and died in the fighting.
J. S. BACH and GEORGE F. HANDEL
wrote their masterpieces of sacred music following this time.
The discovery of the New World occurred shortly
before the Lutheran Reformation began.
As exploration continued, the Lutheran Church came to America.
held the first Lutheran worship service in America by Hudson Bay in 1619.
The first Lutheran Church was erected in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1638.
The first book translated into an American Indian dialect
was Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, in 1646, 100 years after the reformer’s death.
We Are Christians
Lutherans hold the foundational beliefs shared by all Christians:
God is three Persons in one:
the Father, Who created and sustains the world;
the Son, Who became and lived as a man, died, rose from the dead and returned to heaven, taking up again His full glory and power;
and the Holy Spirit, Who brings people to faith in Jesus Christ and imparts to them the blessings of faith.
Each is fully God, and yet there is only one God, not three.
The Bible is God’s Word, spoken through human writers.
Sin is revolt against God in thought, word and deed.
This revolt against God and His will is the source and cause of all bigotry, prejudice, hatred and every evil in the world.
Everyone will have existence after death – either in heaven or hell – forever (eternal life or
God has a plan to end the world, when He will judge everyone –
both the living and the resurrected dead.
Since everyone deserves eternal death, only those who trust (have faith in)
Jesus Christ to save them from the consequences of their sin, will be restored to fellowship with
God and given the free gift of eternal life.
Lutherans proudly display the sign of the cross, a symbol used by all Christians.
The cross symbolizes the terrible death that Jesus suffered as payment for the sins of every man.
Lutherans view Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the ministry of God’s Word as means by which
God gives people His grace. We believe that grace is God’s favor and forgiveness given to
undeserving people. All of this because of His love towards us.
Local churches, or congregations, are the central community for faith and practice. Here we
join together for joint worship of God, mutual encouragement and to accomplish the purposes
God has established for the congregation.
Christian education is important to us. Lutherans provide Sunday schools, Bible classes, home-
study groups, preschools, elementary and high schools and colleges.
We share our faith as individuals by our changed lives and personal testimonies and collectively
through outreach events and mission programs at home and worldwide.
Lutheran worship style, which includes a lot of music and singing, may be “liturgical,”
following the worship forms handed down from the early Christian church, or expressed in more
contemporary forms. We are convinced that the “form” is not what makes worship. True worship
is a heart responding to God’s love and saying YES to His plan.
Modern Times and The LC-MS
Sin can enter into the affairs of the Church on earth. Yet the Holy Spirit
remains active through Word and Sacrament, and that the Church will never
be abandoned by its Savior.
Because of sin,
things often change for bad.
Because of God,
things often change for good.
A few of the changes will now be listed.
As mentioned, the Holy Spirit is active in the Church on earth. However,
some look for direct revelation and ecstatic experiences as proof that they
have a living faith.
A broad-based, interdenominational, CHARISMATIC movement has swept through various bodies.
While Charismatics seem to revive “lazy” churches, the problems they bring outweigh their enthusiasm.
They look for God to speak outside of the Scriptures and thus deny the sufficiency of God’s Word and His
ECUMENISM [the ECUMENICAL MOVEMENT] has also expanded its activities.
Its proponents rush to praise the benefits of “all of God’s people working
together,” and urge us to ignore doctrinal differences between
denominations. It is still the official policy of the LC-MS to avoid unionism and
the negative aspects of the ecumenical movement.
In many Christian bodies, the LIBERAL/CONSERVATIVE debate raged during the 1960s and 70s.
In The LC-MS, a climax was reached in the early 70s, with
the walkout of liberal professors and student supporters at Concordia
Seminary, St. Louis. Included in the controversy was the matter of how
Scripture should be interpreted. Other issues also came to bear. What is
remarkable is that this was the first instance in modern times when such a
large doctrinal liberalism was reversed by a church body.
Success at “cleaning house” in 1973 does not mean that all is right or will
remain right with Synod.
Paul reminds the Church to
remain “sober and vigilant” in all its thoughts, because the “devil is a roaring lion”
who still seeks to devour Christ’s chosen people.
We will always have fights over doctrine, and we must always and only resort to Scripture and our
Confessions drawn from Scripture to preserve the true teaching of our Savior.
To ignore error is to allow its growth. This becomes especially troubling when
congregations slip (or are led by their pastor) into false teaching and
practice, then rebel against a new pastor who tries to lead them back to our
historic, biblical, Christocentric doctrine.
Still, we do not fight for the sake of fighting. We are constrained by Christ’s
love to seek harmony and to approach all people with kindness. Yet the
peace of Christ is not something we bring to ourselves or to others. It is a
peace which comes through faith in the Gospel. And if anyone would destroy
or pervert this Gospel, they must be resisted. Otherwise, while there may be
earthly harmony, there is no true peace, for there is no true Gospel.
Partial Text adapted from,
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