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    Lutheranism is a major branch of Western Christianity that identifies with the teachings of the sixteenth-century German reformer Martin Luther. Luther's efforts to reform the ...

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    Complete overview of the Lutheran denomination, including members, organization, history, beliefs, practices, and links, plus a full treatment of the difference between ELCA and ...

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    Lutheranism, major Protestant denomination, which originated as a 16th-century movement led by Martin Luther. Luther, a German Augustinian monk and...

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Lutheranism

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Martin LutherMartin Luther
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I

Introduction

Lutheranism, major Protestant denomination, which originated as a 16th-century movement led by Martin Luther. Luther, a German Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony (Sachsen), originally had as his goal the reformation of the Western Christian church. Because Luther and his followers were excommunicated by the pope, however, Lutheranism developed in a number of separate national and territorial churches, thus initiating the breakup of the organizational unity of Western Christendom.

The term Lutheran was deplored by Luther, and the church originally called itself the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession or simply the Evangelical Church. Scandinavian Lutherans adopted the names of their countries for their churches (for example, the Church of Sweden). As a result of the missionary movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, Lutheranism has become a worldwide communion of Christians and the largest Protestant denomination in the world, with more than 60 million members.

II

Doctrine and Practices

Lutheranism affirms the ultimate authority of the Word of God (as found in the Bible) in matters of faith and Christian life and emphasizes Christ as the key to the understanding of the Bible.

A

Salvation by Faith

Salvation, according to Lutheran teaching, does not depend on worthiness or merit but is a gift of God’s sovereign grace. All human beings are considered sinners and, because of original sin, are in bondage to the powers of evil and thus unable to contribute to their liberation (see Justification). Lutherans believe that faith, understood as trust in God’s steadfast love, is the only appropriate way for human beings to respond to God’s saving initiative. Thus, “salvation by faith alone” became the distinctive and controversial slogan of Lutheranism. Opponents claimed that this position failed to do justice to the Christian responsibility to do good works, but Lutherans have replied that faith must be active in love and that good works follow from faith as a good tree produces good fruit.



B

Worship

The Lutheran church defines itself as “the assembly of believers among which the Gospel is preached and the Holy Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel” (Augsburg Confession, VII). From the beginning, therefore, the Bible was central to Lutheran worship, and the sacraments were reduced from the traditional seven to baptism and the Lord’s Supper (see Eucharist), because, according to the Lutheran reading of the Scriptures, only these two were instituted by Christ (see Sacrament). Worship was conducted in the language of the people (not in Latin as had been the Roman Catholic tradition), and preaching was stressed in the divine service. Lutheranism did not radically change the structure of the medieval mass, but its use of vernacular language enhanced the importance of the sermons, which were based on the exposition of the Scriptures, and encouraged congregational participation in worship, especially through the singing of the liturgy and of hymns. Luther himself contributed to this development by writing popular hymns (for instance, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”).

In the Lutheran celebration of the Eucharist, the elements of bread and wine are given to all communicants, whereas Roman Catholics had allowed the wine only to priests. In contrast to other Protestants, particularly the Anabaptists, however, Lutherans affirm the real bodily presence of Christ “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine at the Lord's Supper. Christ is sacramentally present for the communicant in the bread and the wine because of the promise he gave at the institution of Holy Communion, when he said, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:26-28).

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