THE LUTHERAN CHURCH
"Lutheran" was a nickname given to the followers of Martin Luther by their enemies in the days of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luthers rebellion against the Roman Catholic Church became the basis for Reformation activities throughout Europe. Basically, Luthers position was that the Roman Catholic Church and the papacy has no divine right in things spiritual, and that the Scripture, not the priest or the church has final authority over conscience. He taught that people are forgiven of their sins, not by good works or by imposition of church rite -- and especially not through the purchase of indulgences offered for sale by the Roman Catholic Church but by their Holy Spirit-empowered action in turning from sin directly to God. (Handbook of Denominations, Mead, 8th edition, p. 142).
Lutheranism had its beginnings in 1517, when Martin Luther made public his Ninety-five Theses by tacking them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. Today, Lutherans compose the largest Protestant faith in the world, with 110 million worldwide adherents, 10.5 million of which live in North America. Most Lutherans, however, are still centered in Germany and Scandinavia.
I. THE HISTORY OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH.
A. Its Beginnings.
1. In 1517, Martin Luther, a German monk, wrote and made public his Ninety-five Theses, a statement in which he called for correction within the Roman Catholic Church, especially in the doctrine of indulgences. For this he was summoned to Rome to answer for his attack upon the indulgence system. By 1521, not having surrendered his views on this and other matters Luther was excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church. By this time, he had acquired a large following in Germany. Some estimate that as much as 60% of the German populace was sympathetic to Luther and his teachings. By 1524 (The Peasants War), Luther had developed a view of opposition to revolution, as well as his belief that religious matters should be controlled by the government. This laid the foundation for Lutheranism to eventually become a collection of state churches.
2. In 1526 at the Diet of Spires, Luthers followers gained the right to have territorial churches, and almost all of Northern Germany adopted the principles of the Reformation. But, by 1529, the Catholic party regained power and stripped away the advances made in 1526. This led to a formal protest, and "Protestantism" was born.
3. Religious turmoil continued in Germany for the next 25 years. In 1546, a religious war broke out, as the government tried to militarily crush Protestantism. It was at this time that Martin Luther died. War raged, in varying degrees of intensity until 1555, when the diet of Augsburg restored peace, and the Protestant States of Germany secured their independence from the pope and his bishops.
4. In reality, what the Peace of Augsburg did was establish the right of each ruler to choose his own state religion. As Glenn C. Stone wrote, "The rulers thus came to play an important role in church life, and many Lutheran churches were founded as state churches." (Merit Students Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 333)
5. The "Religious Peace of Augsburg" claimed a victory for religious liberty. However, this was but the first faltering step taken on the road to religious liberty. J. W. Shepherd notes that "as soon as the Augsburg Confession of Faith was written no one was at liberty to modify or change it, and those who did not conform to it were no less heretics than Luther had been when he failed to conform to the behests of Rome." (The Church The Falling Away And The Restoration, p. 121)
B. Prominent Dates In Lutheranism:
1. October 31, 1517: Luthers Ninety-five Theses tacked to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg, Germany.
2. 1521: In hiding for fear of his life, Luther translated the New Testament from Erasmus Greek and Latin texts into German.
3. 1529: Luther wrote his Small and Large Catechisms in which he explains topics such as God's law, the gospel, Lords Prayer, baptism and the Lords Supper.
4. 1530: The Augsburg Confession, a statement of faith written by Luthers associate Philip Melanchthon. It stresses salvation by grace, while testifying against the abuses of the Medieval Church.
5. 1537: The Smalcald Articles were written by Luther. It states the doctrine of the Trinity and Deity of Christ, while emphasizing "we are saved only through faith in Christ."
6. February 18, 1546: Death of Martin Luther.
7. 1555: Peace of Augsburg gave each ruler in Germany the right to choose the religion within his state.
8. 1577: The Formula of Concord was written to unify the Lutheran Church, which had been disorganized for 30 years. It officially approved all the earlier Lutheran confessions.
9. 1847: The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was founded in Missouri. It has approximately 3 million members, and is the second largest Lutheran Church in the United States.
10. 1960: The American Lutheran Church was formed by the merger of three major Lutheran Churches. Its present membership is approximately 2.5 million.
11. 1962: The Lutheran Church in America was formed through the consolidation of four Lutheran bodies. Its membership is over 3 million.
12 1967: The Lutheran Council in the U.S.A. (LCUSA) was formed to expedite cooperation among Lutheran Churches.
13. 1988: Merger of the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches launched the beginning of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).
14. 1999: ELCA has over 5 million baptized members, and of these, 2.5 million are counted as communing and contributing members.
C. Lessons From The History Of The Lutheran Church.
1. The Lutheran Church was founded by men. (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:11; Acts 4:12)
2. The Lutheran Church had its beginning in Roman Catholicism.
3. The Lutheran Church uses creeds and confessions of faith, written and approved by men, to sustain its doctrines and practices. (Galatians 1:8-9; 2 John 9)
4. There are a number of denominations within the Lutheran Church (over 100). (Ephesians 4:4)
II. MAJOR DOCTRINES OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH.
A. Doctrines Concerning The Scriptures And Authority.
1. The Bible.
a. "The Bible is the Word of God -- absolute truth; it shows God in action." ("About Being Lutheran," p. 4)
b. "To borrow a phrase from Luther, the bible is the manger in which the Word of God is laid." ("A Brief Description of Christianity and Lutheranism," ECLA website)
c. "The Bible is the inspired Word of God and the infallible rule and standard of faith and practice." (Handbook of Denominations, 8th edition, p. 144)
a. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 - The Scriptures are inspired, and fully capable of equipping man in every area of his life. (cf. 2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 3:3-5)
b. It is fully sufficient to meet every need of godliness and doctrine.
a. "Creeds are statements of belief, not additions to the Bible; they support the Bibles teachings." ("About Being Lutheran," p. 4)
b. "Lutherans also adhere to the three ancient creeds of Christianity (the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, jrp)....and testify to Gods truth through their own confessions... accurate interpretations of the Word of God written to correct church errors." - Ibid., p. 6-7.
c. The Lutheran Church's Confessions of Faith are:
1) Augsburg Confession (1530)
2) Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531)
3) Smalcald Articles (1537)
4) Formula of Concord (1577)
5) Luther's Small and Large Catechisms (1529)
a. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 - The Scriptures are sufficient as a statement of the beliefs of Christians (v. 16 - "doctrine").
b. Galatians 1:6-9 - The Bible needs no additions or "Support." To add is to violate God's will.
c. 1 Corinthians 4:6 - Eliminates the use of creeds.
d. Creeds divide believers in Christ, but the Bible can unite them (cf. John 17:20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10).
B. Doctrines Concerning Sin And Salvation.
1. Original Sin and Hereditary Depravity.
a. "It is also taught among us that since the fall of Adam all men who are born according to the course of nature are conceived and born in sin. That is, all men are full of evil lust and inclinations from their mothers wombs and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God." ("The Augsburg Confession," The Book of Concord, Tappert, p. 29)
b. "Here we must confess what St. Paul says in Rom. 5:12, namely, that sin had its origin in one man, Adam, through whose disobedience all men were made sinners and became subject to death and the devil. This is called original sin, or the root sin." ("The Smalcald Articles," The Book of Concord, p. 302)
a. Romans 5:12 - Through Adam, sin and death entered into the world. Death passes to all men because ("for that") all men sin -- not because Adam sinned.
b. Ezekiel 18:20 - Neither the sins of the father nor the punishment for the fathers sins is inherited by the son. Sin is not inherited, it is committed.
c. Matthew 18:2-3; 19:14 - Must be as children to enter the kingdom of heaven. If children are conceived and born in sin, this would be absurd!
2. Justification by Faith Alone.
a. "It is also taught among us that we cannot obtain forgiveness of sin and righteousness before God by our own merits, works, or satisfactions, but that we receive forgiveness of sin and become righteous before God by grace, for Christ's sake, through faith, when we believe that Christ suffered for us and that for his sake our sin is forgiven and righteousness and eternal life are given to us. For God will regard and reckon this faith as righteousness as Paul says in Romans 3:21-26 and 4:5." ("The Augsburg Confession," The Book of Concord, p. 30)
b. "We begin by teaching that our works cannot reconcile us with God or obtain grace for us, for this happens only through faith, that is, when we believe that our sins are forgiven for Christs sake, who alone is the mediator who reconciles the Father. Whoever imagines that he can accomplish this by works, or that he can merit grace, despises Christ and seeks his own way to God, contrary to the Gospel." (Ibid., p. 42)
a. Ephesians 2:8-9 - Gods grace, which provides salvation, is a free gift from God. Man, however, is obligated to have faith in order to receive this free gift. This faith does not merit ones salvation (cf. Luke 17:10).
b. 2 Timothy 1:9 - It is impossible to merit salvation.
c. Romans 3:21-26 - God has provided justification through the redemptive work of Christ (v. 24). Through faith in His death (v. 25), God justifies man (v. 26).
d. Romans 4:1-5 - Faith justifies - Works (perfect sinlessness - v. 1-2) do not, for none are without sin (3:23). Therefore, nobody can merit salvation.
e. But, what kind of faith saves? (James 2:14-26; esp. v. 21-24) Here we are taught that an obedient faith is the kind of faith which saves.
f. Hebrews 5:8-9 - Mans obedience is not in opposition to salvation "by grace through faith," because this passage teaches it is the obedient person who is saved by Christ!
a. Essential nature of baptism.
-"It is taught among us that Baptism is necessary, and that grace is offered through it." (Ibid., p. 32) (A "sacrament" according to Lutheranism, jrp)
b. Purpose of baptism.
(1) "It effects forgiveness of sins, delivers from death and the devil, and grants eternal salvation to all who believe, as the Word and promise of God declare." ("The Small Catechism," The Book of Concord, p. 348-349)
(2) "Nor can we understand this better than from the words of Christ quoted above, He that believes and is baptized shall be saved. To put it simply, the power, effect, benefit, fruit, and purpose of Baptism is to save." ("The Large Catechism," The Book of Concord, p. 439)
c. Subjects of baptism.
(1) Infants: "As for infant Baptism, we hold that children should be baptized, for they, too, are included in the promise of redemption which Christ made, and the church should administer Baptism to them." ("The Smalcald Articles," The Book of Concord, p. 311) [To remove original sin.]
(2) Adults: "Moreover, it is solemnly and strictly commanded that we must be baptized or we shall not be saved. We are not to regard it as an indifferent matter, then, like putting on a new red coat." ("The Large Catechism," The Book of Concord, p. 437)
d. Method of baptism.
-Generally, by pouring or sprinkling. (From interview with Daryl Robarge, Pastor of the Trinity Lutheran Church, Layton, UT, jrp.)
a. Essential nature of baptism. - Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; Galatians 3:27; 1 Peter 3:21.
b. Purpose of baptism.
1) To be saved - Mark 16:16; 1 Peter 3:21.
2) To receive remission of sins - Acts 2:38.
3) To have one's sins washed away - Acts 22:16.
4) To have the benefits of Christ's death applied to one's life - Romans 6:3-4.
5) To put on Christ - Galatians 3:27.
c. Subjects of baptism.
1) Sinners - Acts 22:16.
2) Believers - Mark 16:16
3) Repentant believers - Acts 2:38.
4) Repentant believers who confess Christ - Acts 8:36-38; Romans 10:9-10.
5) Therefore, infants are not proper subjects for baptism, having neither the capacity to sin, nor the capacity to believe.
d. Method of baptism.
1) Baptizo - "To immerse, to submerge, to plunge."
2) It is a burial - Colossians 2:12.
3) Therefore, sprinkling and pouring are not authorized methods of performing baptism.
4. Confession of Sins.
a. What it is.
-"Confession consists of two parts. One is that we confess our sins. The other is that we receive absolution or forgiveness from the confessor as from God himself...." ("The Small Catechism," The Book of Concord, p. 349)
b. The forms it takes.
(1) Public - Known as "general confession," made by the whole congregation during regular worship services.
(2) Private - "Before the confessor, however, we should confess only those sins of which we have knowledge and which trouble us." (Ibid., p. 350)
a. What it is.
(1) 1 John 1:9 - Confession of sins is made by the Christian in prayer to God, seeking forgiveness from Him.
(2) James 5:16 - Confession of sins to each other, for mutual prayer and personal forgiveness (cf. Matthew 5:23-24; 18:35).
b. The forms it takes.
(1) 1 John 1:9; James 5:16 - It should be no more public than was the sin.
(2) Acts 8:22-24 - Simon sought Peters prayers, not a pronouncement of his forgiveness.
C. Doctrines Concerning The Church And Its Members.
1. The Lord's Supper.
a. Its purposes.
(1) Forgiveness of sins. "...we go to the sacrament because we receive there a great treasure, through and in which we obtain the forgiveness of sins." ("The Large Catechism," The Book of Concord, p. 449)
(2) It strengthens one's faith. "The Lord's Supper is given as a daily food and sustenance so that our faith may refresh and strengthen itself and not weaken in the struggle but grow continually stronger." (Ibid.)
(3) To express unity with other believers -- "Communion." (From interview with Daryl Robarge, Lutheran pastor)
b. Its elements.
(1) "Now, what is the Sacrament of the Altar? Answer: It is the true body and blood of the Lord Christ in and under the bread and wine which we Christians are commanded by Christs word to eat and drink." (Ibid., p. 447)
(2) The Lutheran Church teaches that in some mysterious way, Christ enters into the bread and wine (called "consubstantiation"), and thereby uses the elements as an instrument to come to the participants.
c. Frequency of observance.
(1) Based upon congregational tradition.
(2) Usually either once or twice a month, although until the end of the 19th century, most congregations observed it quarterly.
a. Its purposes.
(1) A memorial of Christ's death - 1 Cor. 11:23-25.
(2) A proclamation of Christ's death - 1 Cor. 11:26.
(3) A communion with the blessings of Christs redemption - 1 Cor. 10:16
(4) It is a symbolic feast - Matthew 26:26-28.
b. Its elements.
(1) Unleavened bread and fruit of the vine - Matt. 26:19, 26, 29 (cf. Exodus 12:19).
(2) Symbolize Christ's body and blood - Matthew 26:26-28.
(3) Nothing about "consubstantiation" found in the Bible.
c. Frequency of observance.
(1) First day of the week - Acts 20:7.
(2) By necessary implication, we conclude it should be observed every first day of the week (cf. Exodus 20:8).
D. Doctrine Concerning The Ten Commandments.
1. They are binding today.
"What does God declare concerning all these commandments (10 commandments - jrp)? God threatens to punish all who transgress these commandments. We should therefore fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments." ("The Small Catechism," The Book of Concord, p. 344)
a. The Old Testament Law (which included the 10 commandments) was fulfilled, and is no longer in effect. (Matt. 5:17-18; Gal. 3:19, 23-25; Romans 7:4-7; Hebrews 8:6-13; Colossians 2:14-15)
b. The Ten Commandments were only a part of the law given exclusively to the nation of Israel - Deut. 5:2-3, 6-21.
c. Nine of the ten commandments are also contained in Christs law, which is revealed in the New Testament (only Sabbath observance is omitted - Col. 2:14-17).
III. PROMINENT DOCTRINES REJECTED BY SOME LUTHERANS.
A. The Impossibility Of Apostasy.
1. "Rejected here are those who teach that persons who have once become godly cannot fall again." ("The Augsburg Confession," The Book of Concord, p. 35)
2. The Bible affirms that Christians can fall away from grace - Hebrews 3:12-15; 6:4-6; 10:26-27, 38-39; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Galatians 5:2-4; 1 Cor. 10:13.
1. "Rejected, too, are certain Jewish opinions which are even now making an appearance and which teach that, before the resurrection of the dead, saints and godly men will possess a worldly kingdom and annihilate all the godless." (Ibid., p. 38-39)
2. The Bible does not teach a 1000 year earthly kingdom - John 18:36; Colossians 1:13; Revelation 1:6,9; 5:9-10; 1 Corinthians 15:23-26.
IV. THE ORGANIZATION OF THE LUTHERAN CHURCH.
A. Congregational Organization.
1. A Church Council administers the affairs of the congregation.
a. Composed of the Pastor and elected lay officers, called either elders, deacons or trustees.
b. Pastors are elected and called by the voting members of the congregation, but a congregation itself can never depose a pastor from the ministry.
c. As a rule, ministers are ordained at the annual meetings of the synod.
B. Organization Among Congregations.
1. Congregations are united in Synods (councils), composed of pastors and lay representatives elected by the congregations.
2. Each synod has a constitution stating its authority and work.
3. Synods usually hold annual conventions.
C. Organization Among Synods.
1. Synods unite is a General Body that may be national or international and is called variously church, synod or conference.
2. Some of these general bodies are legislative in nature, and some are consultative in nature.
3. These general bodies supervise the work of worship, education, publication, charity and mission.
4. The general bodies meet either annually or biennially.
-Organization Of The New Testament Church.
1. Congregational Organization. (Phil. 1:1)
a. Elders (Bishops, pastors) - Acts 14:23; 20:17,28; 1 Peter 5:2-3; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9.
b. Deacons - 1 Timothy 3:8-13.
c. Saints (Christians) - 1 Cor. 1:1-2.
2. Inter-Congregational Organization (Synods)?
a. No such concept taught in the New Testament.
b. 1 Peter 5:2 - Elders had (have) authority only over the congregation of which they are members.
c. Congregations acted concurrently (at the same time, they did the same thing) - cf. Romans 15:26; 2 Cor. 11:8. But, congregational autonomy and independence was preserved - 1 Peter 5:2.
3. Synodal Organization (National or International Organization)?
a. No functioning organization given to the universal church as such.
b. Ephesians 1:22-23 - The universal church is composed of Christians, not churches.
Without a doubt, Martin Luther made a great impact upon current theological teachings and religious practices. The Lutheran Church, which patterns itself after Luthers theological and moral views, was one of the first attempts to reform Catholicism and restore the church to its former purity. What happened, however, was the implementation of new human doctrines. When the doctrines of the Lutheran Church are compared with the Scriptures they also prove to be without divine authority.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Be ready to discuss when, how, and for what reasons Lutheranism began.
2. Give what you believe to be the three most important dates in the history of Lutheranism, and tell why you chose these dates.
3. What major event happened among three of the Lutheran denominations in America in 1988?
4. What lessons can we learn from the history of the Lutheran Church? See if you can think of any additional lessons which are not in this material.
5. What regard for the Bible is expressed by the Lutheran Church?
6. How does this relate to the Lutheran Churchs use of creeds or confessions?
7. Where in the Bible do we learn of God's attitude toward creeds?
8. What does Lutheranism teach regarding original sin and hereditary depravity? What Bible responses would you make to these doctrines?
9. To what was Luthers "justification by works alone" doctrine a reaction? What is the Bible definition of "earning (meriting, working) salvation? (Rom. 4:1-5)
10. Does the Bible teach that a persons obedience affects his salvation? If so, where?
11. Why does the Lutheran Church baptize infants? See if you can determine what reasoning they use to conclude this practice is justified.
12. How would you prove that immersion is the only scriptural way to baptize?
13. What are the two ways confession of sins is practiced in Lutheranism?
14. Explain the purposes of the Lord Supper as taught in Lutheranism.
15. What do Lutherans believe happens when a Christian partakes of the Lords Supper?
16. How would you prove from the Bible that the Christian is not living under the Old Testament Law today?
17. How are congregations organized within the Lutheran Church? What organization exists among their congregations? What types of work do national and international organizations within Lutheranism perform?
18. What is the organized, functional unit of the church as taught in the New Testament?