A Short History of Lutheranism
Lutheranism appeared in Western Europe at the beginning of the 16th century as a result of the Reformation in the Western Church. The idea of church cleansing and renewal had already for a long time been in the air. In 1517 Martin Luther, a monk of the Augustinian order and a doctor of theology who taught at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony, posted his famous document called, “The 95 Theses” on the door of the Castle Church. These theses were intended for scholarly debate and raised questions about a number of the church’s teachings and practices, including the sale of indulgences. His humble work caused a great stir throughout Western Europe. The Roman Church accused him of heresy. Interestingly enough, though, Martin still considered himself a faithful member of his church and had no intentions of breaking away in order to form a new one. He wanted instead to correct the errors which he assumed others would also readily see, once they were pointed out. For many long years, Luther and his allies struggled not only to cleanse the church of its errors, but also to preserve the unity of Western Christendom. They took steps to meet with their opponents and tried to reach mutual understanding on the basis of Scripture, but their efforts were in vain. Finally, circumstances and the stubborn will of those opposed to him forced Luther and his allies to organize a separate church independent of Roman influence.
The Roman pope and Holy Roman Emperor decided to suppress the Reformation by force. A period of violence ensued which came to an end only after the 30 Years’ War (1618-1648). At that time the religious map of Europe experienced great changes. The Evangelical Lutheran Church became the state confession of countries such as Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Latvia and Estonia. It took hold in the northern, northeastern, and southwestern parts of Germany. Eastern Prussia became the first Lutheran territory (now Kaliningrad Oblast, an exclave of Russia). Besides the German-speaking peoples, Lutheranism spread through the Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, and French. Lutheran churches became the official church of those territories, where the ruler was also Lutheran.
The governing structure of these churches was as follows: there was no central point of authority, but every local church was independent and remained in pulpit and altar fellowship with other churches which shared its beliefs. Matters are much the same today. Lutherans inherited, so to speak, a large number of medieval cathedrals along with their magnificent decorations, icons and sculptures. Lutherans preserved these things, recognizing that they were heirs of an ancient, unbroken Christian tradition. There were significant developments in the church along the lines of organ music and congregational singing. J.S. Bach, the great composer, was a faithful Lutheran until the end of his life, and he wrote many hymns and arrangements for the Lutheran Church.
“What does the Lutheran Church teach? How does it differ from other churches?”We can briefly explain Lutheran doctrine in the following way: salvation is given 1. by grace alone, 2. by faith alone, and 3. by Scripture alone.
BY GRACE ALONE
The Bible teaches, that God created the entire world at the beginning of time. The Lord created everything perfect, including the first people, Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:23). In their perfection, Adam and Eve knew what kind of life, deeds, and thoughts God expected from them. They lived in line with God’s will, and this life brought them happiness and joy. But soon that all changed. Satan planted doubts in their hearts: “Does God really love you?” And our first parents, knowing perfectly well what they were doing, disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit.
God is just. He hates sin and punishes all, who break his commands (Psalm 5:5). For their disobedience Adam and Eve deserved God’s punishment. They should not only have lost their immortality; they deserved eternal death in hell. Adam and Eve weren’t able to do anything to escape God’s punishment. Since they had now become sinners, they weren’t able to do anything to please the Holy God.
On the one hand, God was not able to leave sin unpunished. But on the other hand, out of love for people God did not want to condemn them to eternal torment. God himself solved this dilemma by sending his Son in order to save us and all people. The Lord Jesus, true God and true man, became our substitute. He lived a holy, sinless life, which God now credits to us (Romans 5:19; Isaiah 61:10). He suffered and died on the cross, taking the punishment for the sins of all people (1 John 2:2).
BY FAITH ALONE
“What will happen to me when I die? How can I find the way to God?” These are important questions. Usually people think, “If I try to live a good life, then God will love me,” or “If I become better than other people, God will take me to heaven.” But the Bible speaks differently. God demands absolute moral perfection from us. “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
But we sinners aren’t able to fulfill God’s command. For us this is impossible, because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even the “good” works that people do are stained with their sins and aren’t acceptable to God (Isaiah 64:6). The Lord himself says in John’s Gospel, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (3:16). The Lord Jesus considers his perfect life yours! The Savior paid for your sins, when he suffered on the cross! These are the promises of God. Believe them! Everyone who believes the promises of the Lord receives the blessings he promises. We are saved by faith alone (Romans 3:27).
BY SCRIPTURE ALONE
“How can I know the truth?”The Bible is God’s word. The words of Scripture are true, because they are spoken by God himself (John 10:35). God gave us his word, in order that we might know the truth (John 8:31,32; Psalm 119:130). The most important truth revealed to us by God is the way to eternal life. The apostle John explained why he wrote his Gospel: “These are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31). In the Bible God tells us everything we need to know in order to gain eternal life (1 Timothy 3:15-17). We receive salvation by Scripture alone.
“There are so many different churches. How can I know which church teaches the truth?”
God gave us the truth in his word. If a church teaches what the Scriptures teach, that means that the church teaches the truth. But if a church disagrees with the Bible in its teachings, then the church will only lead people away from the truth. We apply this general principle also to the Lutheran church. And it’s for that reason that we invite you to come to us and study the Bible with us. Come and compare our teaching with the Bible (Acts 17:11). The Savior promises us, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31,32).