Christianity Protestant Reformation Roman Catholicism Martin Luther Philipp Melanchthon Frederick the Wise Martin Chemnitz Johann Sebastian Bach Henry Melchior Muhlenberg Lars Levi Læstadius C. F. W. Walther Augsburg Confession Apology of the Augsburg Confession Smalcald Articles Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope Luther's Large Catechism Luther's Small Catechism Formula of Concord 95 Theses Sacramental union Law and Gospel Sola scriptura Sola gratia Sola fide The Eucharist Holy Baptism Divine Service Lutheran Liturgical Calendar Lutheran World Federation International Lutheran Council Evangelical Lutheran Free Church Confessional Evangelical Conference Laestadianism List of Lutheran Denominations Lutheranism is a major branch of Protestant Christianity that follows the teachings of the sixteenth-century German reformer Martin Luther. Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the Church launched the Protestant Reformation and, though it was not his intention, left Western Christianity divided. can trace their tradition, at least in part, back to Luther's reforming work.
Lutheranism as a movement traces its origin to the work of Martin Luther, a German monk and theologian who sought to reform the practices of the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. The symbolic beginning of the Reformation occurred on October 31, 1517, which Lutherans and other Protestants regard as Reformation Day, when Doctor Luther posted an open invitation to debate his 95 theses concerning the "power and efficacy of indulgences": the idea that time in purgatory could be reduced by making donations to the church.
Luther's insights are generally held to have been a major foundation of the Protestant movement. The relationship between Lutheranism and the Protestant tradition is, however, ambiguous: some Lutherans consider Lutheranism to be outside the Protestant tradition, while some see it as part of this tradition.
Between 1517 and 1520, Luther preached and published his criticisms of what he considered false doctrine of the church of his day in books and pamphlets. His ideas were supported by many other Christian theologians, and they also had a certain populist appeal. As a result, Luther gained many supporters and followers from all levels of society, from peasants who considered him a folk hero, to knights who swore to protect him, to rulers of German lands who wanted more independence from papal interference in their domestic policies. Luther also gained some powerful enemies, including the Pope in Rome and the youthful Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Concerned about the "problem" of Luther, the Pope and Roman officials decided to send representatives to Luther to discuss his concerns and to persuade him to retract his challenges to papal authority. The effort was largely unsuccessful. Luther continued to discover new areas in need of reform. Finally, the papal bull called the Exsurge Domine was issued in 1520, calling on Luther to condemn and abandon his ideas. Luther replied by burning the bull and volumes of canon law in a bonfire at Wittenberg. Finally, a new bull excommunicating Luther and those who agreed with him was issued, Decet Romanum Pontificem (January, 1521).
Charles V wanted to outlaw the now excommunicated Luther and his followers, but he was warned by advisors that doing so outright would cause a revolt, since Luther had become so popular. More importantly, the ruler of Luther's land, Elector Frederick the Wise, refused to allow any of his subjects to be condemned without trial. So instead, Luther was to be summoned to appear before the Diet of Worms. Luther went to Worms, but when called upon by imperial and papal officials to retract his ideas, Luther replied: "I cannot submit my faith either to the Pope or to the Councils, because it is clear as day they have frequently erred and contradicted each other. Unless therefore, I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture and plain reason ... I cannot and will not recant ..." --Martin Luther, April 16, 1521
The emperor had granted Luther a promise of safe conduct to travel to and from his trial, but remembering how a similar promise had been violated in the case of Jan Hus, Luther's supporters prevailed upon him to escape from Worms in the dark of night, before he too could be seized and executed. Luther remained in hiding for some time at the Wartburg Castle in Eisenach, all the while continuing to write and develop his ideas. Shortly after Luther escaped, Charles V issued the Edict of Worms, which outlawed Luther and his followers, declared Luther and his followers heretics, and banned Luther's writings and teachings.
Luther and his followers began a large exodus from the Roman Catholic Church known as the Protestant Reformation. In the years and decades following Luther's posting of the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenberg church, large numbers of Europeans left the Roman Church, including the majority of German speakers (the only German speaking areas where the population remained mostly in the Catholic church were those under the domain or influence of Catholic Austria and Bavaria or the electoral archbishops of Mainz, Cologne, and Trier). Because Luther sparked this mass movement, he is known as the father of the Protestant Reformation, and the father of Protestantism in general.
Today, approximately 82.6 million people call themselves Lutheran, while there are an estimated 2.1 billion Christians. Thus, about 1 in 25 Christians are Lutheran.
Results of the Lutheran Reformation
Lutherans believe that the Bible, as a divinely inspired book, is the source of all revealed divine knowledge. Scripture alone (Sola scriptura) is the formal principle of the faith, the final authority for all matters of faith and doctrine.
The Book of Concord, published in 1580, contains ten documents which Lutherans believe are authoritative explanations of Holy Scripture. Besides the three Ecumenical Creeds, which date to Roman times, the Book of Concord contains seven credal documents articulating Lutheran theology in the Reformation era. Traditionally, Lutheran pastors, congregations, and church bodies agree to teach in harmony with the Lutheran Confessions. Some Lutheran church bodies require this pledge to be unconditional, while others allow their congregations to do so "insofar as" the Confessions are in agreement with the Bible.
Lutherans have understood the Bible as containing two distinct types of content, termed Law and Gospel (or Law and Promises). Beginning in the nineteenth century, Lutheran confessionalism emphasized a stricter adherence to the authority of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions as expressed in the Book of Concord. Today, Lutheran groups vary on the nature and limits of biblical inerrancy, with each group claiming to represent the true Reformation position. Conservative groups tend to stress biblical inerrancy, confessionalism, and the orthodoxy of 17th century Lutheranism, while liberal groups seek to make use of the higher criticism method of biblical interpretation.
The Bible and the Lutheran Confessions
The key doctrine, or material principle, of Lutheranism is the doctrine of justification. Lutherans believe that humans are saved from their sins by God's grace alone (Sola Gratia), through faith alone (Sola Fide). Lutherans believe that this grace is granted for the sake of Christ's merit alone (Solus Christus). Traditional Lutheran theology holds that God made the world, including humanity, perfect, holy and sinless. However, Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, trusting in their own strength, knowledge, and wisdom. Lutherans do not believe in any sort of earthly millennial kingdom of Christ either before or after his second coming on the last day (John 18:36).
Although Lutherans believe that good works do not satisfy God's wrath, this is not to say that they hold good works to play no role in the Christian life (Tit. 2:14). Good works are the fruit of saving faith (John 15:5), and always and in every instance spring spontaneously from true faith (2 Cor. 9:8). Any true good works have their true origin in God (Phil 2:13), not in the fallen human heart or in human striving (Rom. 7:18, Heb 11:6); their absence would demonstrate that faith, too, is absent (Mat. 7:15–16, Tit. 1:16). 
Although they decried the division of the Church, early Lutherans tended to avoid ecumenical fellowship with other Churches, believing that churches should not share Communion and exchange pastors if they do not agree upon doctrine.
In 1817, King Frederick William III of Prussia ordered the Lutheran and Reformed churches in his territory to unite, forming the Evangelical Church of the Prussian Union. The unification of the two branches of German Protestantism sparked a great deal of controversy. Many Lutherans, termed Old Lutherans, chose to leave the established churches and form independent church bodies. Many left for America and Australia. The dispute over ecumenism overshadowed other controversies within German Lutheranism.
Ecumenism with other Christians
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The largest organizations of Lutheran churches around the world are the Lutheran World Federation, the International Lutheran Council, and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference. These organizations together include the great majority of Lutheran denominations around the globe.
The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) aligned churches do not believe that one church is singularly true in its teachings. According to this belief, Lutheranism is a reform movement rather than a movement into doctrinal correctness. For that reason, a number of doctrinally diverse LWF denominations, now largely separated from state control, are declaring fellowship and joint statements of agreement with other Lutheran and non-Lutheran Christian denominations.
By contrast, the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference and International Lutheran Council as well as many unaffiliated denominations such as the Church of the Lutheran Confession (CLC) maintain that that the orthodox confessional Lutheran churches are the only churches with completely correct doctrine. They teach that while other Christian churches teach partially orthodox doctrine and have true Christians as members, the doctrines of those churches contain significant errors. More conservative Lutherans strive to maintain historical distinctiveness while emphasizing doctrinal purity alongside Gospel-motivated outreach. They state that LWF Lutherans are practicing fake ecumenism by desiring church fellowship outside of actual unity of teaching.
Ecumenism among Lutherans
Many Lutherans place great emphasis on a liturgical approach to worship services; although there have always been substantial non-liturgical minorities (Hauge Lutherans from Norway, contemporary-worship oriented Lutherans today—see paragraph below). Music forms a large part of a traditional Lutheran service. Lutheran hymns are sometimes known as chorales, and Luther himself composed hymns and hymn tunes, perhaps the most famous of which is "A Mighty Fortress is Our God" ("Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott"). Lutheran hymnody is reputed for its doctrinal, didactic, and musical riches. Many Lutheran churches are active musically with choirs, handbell 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.
Many Lutherans also preserve a liturgical approach to the celebration of Communion (or the Lord's Supper), emphasizing the sacrament as the central act of Christian worship. Lutherans believe that Jesus' actual body and blood are present in, with and under the bread and the wine. This belief is called Real Presence or Sacramental Union and is different than consubstantiation and transubstantiation. Additionally Lutherans reject the idea that communion is a mere symbol or memorial. They confess in the Apology of the Augsburg Confession:
- "...we do not abolish the Mass but religiously keep and defend it. Among us the Mass is celebrated every Lord's Day and on other festivals, when the Sacrament is made available to those who wish to partake of it, after they have been examined and absolved. We also keep traditional liturgical forms, such as the order of readings, prayers, vestments, and other similar things." (Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Article XXIV.1)
In the 1970s, many Lutheran churches began holding "contemporary" worship services for the purpose of evangelical outreach. These services were in a variety of styles, depending on the preferences of the congregation. Often they were held alongside a traditional service, to cater to those who were not comfortable with the more liturgical forms. As the Lutheran church enters the 21st century, some Lutheran congregations are holding "Contemporary Worship" services as their sole form of worship. Outreach is no longer given as the primary motivation, rather this form of worship is seen as more in keeping with the desires of individual congregations. Because Luther contemporized the worship service for his community, these congregations see their position as in keeping with "Confessional Lutheranism". Principle examples of this in the ELCA include Family of God, Cape Coral FL., The Well, Charlotte NC, and Church of the Apostles, Seattle WA.. The Lutheran World Federation, the largest federation of international Lutheran Churches has in fact strongly recommended in the Nairobe Statement on Worship and Culture that Lutherans of the world make every effort to bring their services into a more contextually sensitive position.
"A given culture's values and patterns, insofar as they are consonant with the values of the Gospel, can be used to express the meaning and purpose of Christian worship. Contextualization is a necessary task for the Church's mission in the world, so that the Gospel can be ever more deeply rooted in diverse local cultures." The Nairobe Statement
Catechism, especially children's, is considered fundamental in most Lutheran churches. Almost all maintain Sunday Schools, and some host or maintain private nursery schools, primary schools, regional high schools and universities.
Life-long catechesis, since Martin Luther's day, was intended for all ages so that the abuses of the Church of that day would not recur. Reference: preface to Luther's Large and preface to Luther's Small Catechism. With the emphasis on proper life-long catechesis, the Lutheran Church has a heritage rich in theology and doctrine.
Pastors usually teach in the common language of the parish. In the U.S., some congregations and synods traditionally taught in German, Finnish, or Norwegian, but this custom, which attracted unfavorable attention during World War I, has been in significant decline since the early/middle 20th century.
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. Some Lutheran denominations allow female pastors.
While not an issue in the majority of Lutheran church bodies, a few of them forbid membership in Freemasonry. A 1958 report from the publishing house of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod states that, "Masonry is guilty of idolatry. Its worship and prayers are idol worship. The Masons may not with their hands have made an idol out of gold, silver, wood or stone, but they created one with their own mind and reason out of purely human thoughts and ideas. The latter is an idol no less than the former."
Lutheran Churches in the United States use a number of hymnals as well as electronic projection media. The most widely used are: The Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and The Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006, ELCA and ELCIC), Lutheran Worship (1982, LCMS), Christian Worship (WELS), and The Lutheran Hymnal (1941, LCMS, WELS & CLC). In 2006, both the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the LCMS, the two largest Lutheran denominations, released new hymnals: Evangelical Lutheran Worship (ELCA) and Lutheran Service Book (LCMS).
The three largest international Lutheran bodies are the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), which contains 140 member church bodies in 78 countries representing 66.2 million of the world's 69.7 million Lutherans; and the International Lutheran Council (ILC), of which the LCMS and the LCC are members; and the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), of which the WELS and ELS are members. The Lutheran World Federation supports the activities of Lutheran World Relief, a relief and development agency active in more than 50 countries.
Many Lutheran churches exist throughout the world which are not affiliated with the LWF, the ILC or the CELC, such as those affiliated with Augsburg Lutheran Churches or Church of the Lutheran Confession which are especially active in Africa and India; and those affiliated with the Church of the Lutheran Brethren, which are especially active elsewhere in Asia.