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Lutheranism is a major Protestant denomination. It traces its beginnings to the sixteenth century and the attempts of the Saxon monk and theologian Martin Luther to reform the Roman Catholic Church. From its origins, Lutheranism eventually spread throughout Germany, to Scandinavia and its colonies, and to the Baltic countries.

Its membership is about 70 million members worldwide, roughly equal to the number of Methodists and slightly below the number of Anglicans[1][2] It is the most numerous Protestant sect in Europe, being the denomination of the state churches of Norway, Denmark, and Iceland, and also the former state churches of Sweden, Finland, and several German Länder (states/provinces). Most of the Lutheran churches of Europe have episcopal polities, while other Lutheran groups use congregational or synodical polities.

Lutherans generally support the Ecumenical Movement and consider themselves to be both evangelical and catholic. They historically resist separation of church and state, although holding to the doctrine of the two kingdomsWikipedia that says the church should stay out of politics. Despite its highly institutionalized role in the Nordic countries, revival movements led by lay preachers are common. These come in various shapes, sizes and degrees of zeal. A good example is Laestadianism, members of which are not allowed to watch TV for example.

Lutherans believe the unlimited accumulation of wealth to be a reward by Providence for good work.[citation needed]

Unlike Catholic pastors, Lutheran pastors are permitted to marry. The Lutheran Church lacks a consensus position on homosexuality and ordains homosexual pastors; it was also one of the first mainline denominations to permit female priests. Confessional Lutheran groups, such as the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), reject both of these positions, condemning homosexuality by citing Romans 1:18-28 and 1 Corinthians 6:9, and refusing the ordination of women, citing 1 Corinthians 14:33-36 and 1 Timothy 2:11-14. The LCMS allows women to hold church office while the WELS does not.


Martin Luther was the only one of the major Protestant reformers to be expelled from the Roman Catholic Church rather than leaving of his own accord, as John Calvin and Henry VIII did. This occurred after Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses in Wittenberg, Saxony, on October 31, 1517; disturbed by perceived corruption in the Roman Catholic Church, Luther aimed to correct abuses in the church while conserving its catholic heritage. His movement originally called itself the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession. The name Lutheranism, however, was initially applied by the enemies of Luther during the Leipzig Disputation in 1519.

The Edict of Worms (1521) placed Lutherans under imperial ban, and at the Council of Trent in 1545 the Lutheran view was condemned. In the Peace of Augsburg (1555) each prince in the empire was allowed to decide whether his subjects would be Lutheran or Roman Catholic. Cuius regio, eius religio is a Latin phrase meaning "whose region, his religion."

In the 17th century Rosicrucianism was associated with Lutheranism. [3] For over a century after that there was a period known as Lutheran Orthodoxy, when little theological innovation was made in the denomination. Significant Lutheran personalities in this era include Johann Gerhard, Nikolaus Hunnius, Abraham Calov, and David Hollaz. Lutheranism spawned the Pietist movement in the late 17th century as a response to arid intellectualism in the orthodox theologians. Reformer Philipp Jakob Spener posited that experience was the basis of all certainty.

Eighteenth century Lutherans Christian Wolff and Johann Semler, influenced by Enlightenment rationalism, advanced the acceptance of reason as a final authority.

In 1817, Prussia forced the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) churches in its territory to unite into a single polity. This event proved the impetus for a revival of Confessional Lutheranism, or assent to the whole of its religious teaching. Prominent figures in the effort to restore historical Lutheranism were C. P. Caspari, E. W. Hengstenberg, and C. F. W. Walther, the latter immigrating to the United States in 1838 to found the LCMS.

In the 20th century the neo-orthodoxy of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth and existentialism have been the most prominent theological developments. The Lutheran World Federation, founded in 1947 and based in Geneva, promotes world unity.

In the United States[edit]

It has been claimed that American (US) Lutheranism does not differ from European Lutheranism. Theologian Gerhard Friedrich Bente noted, "As for American Lutheranism, it is not a specific brand of Lutheranism, but simply Lutheranism in America; for doctrinally Lutheranism, like Christianity, with which it is identical, is the same the world over. Neither is the American Lutheran Church a distinct species or variety of the Lutheran Church, but merely the Lutheran Church in America." [4] However, American Lutheran bodies, having historically taken many forms, are not identical to each other and thus cannot be identical to their European counterparts. Another website notes, "In the United States the Lutherans have been more conservative, and thus far have preserved more of their confessional spirit."[5]

American Lutheranism began as early as 1625 when Dutch, German, and Scandinavian Lutherans settled in what is now New York City. Additionally Swedish Lutherans settled in Delaware by 1638. Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg organized the first synod (council) of Lutherans in America, the Ministerium of North America and Synod of Pennsylvania, in 1748.

With the founding of the Gettysburg Seminary in 1826, Samuel Schmucker helped establish the General Synod, which built colleges, orphanages, homes for the aged, and hospitals in Lutheran communities.

The LCMS (Missouri Synod) was formed in 1847 and was characterized by adherence to traditional Lutheran texts, affirmation of biblical inerrancy, and opposition to Americanization. They believed that the synod should have no authority over individual congregations, that doctrinal conformity was the prerequisite for Lutheran unity, and that the Bible required agreement in all that the Bible taught. LCMS pastors are still required to affirm that the Lutheran confessions are the most significant explanation of the teachings of Scripture. They also believe that non-believers will go to hell, citing 1 Peter 3:19-20 and Acts 1:25.

In 1867 the General Council was formed as a reaction against the General Synod. They adopted the Akron Rule in 1872, reserving Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran pastors and Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants. The Synodical Conference was formed in 1872 from Midwest confessionalists, and the United Synod, South was formed in 1886.

The first half of the 20th century saw the formation of new Lutheran bodies and service organizations. The Lutheran Bureau, formed in 1917, provided ordinary Americans with information on the Lutheran heritage. The National Lutheran Commission for Soldiers' and Sailors' Welfare established camps, recruited pastors, and raised money. The National Lutheran Council recruited chaplains, supported orphan missions, ministered to armed forces personnel, and aided reconstruction in Europe. The Norwegian Lutheran Church in America (NLCA) was created in 1917 and the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA) in 1918. The American Lutheran Conference (ALC), formed by moderate Midwestern synods as a reaction to the National Lutheran Council, banned cooperation with other Protestants. The Lutheran Home Missions Council of America was formed to overcome ethnic boundaries and to allow for altar and pulpit fellowship.

The ALC and ELC (formerly the NLCA) merged in 1960 to form The American Lutheran Church. The ULCA and Augustana Synod united in 1962 to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). In 1987 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed from a merger of the American Lutheran Church and the LCA and Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. In 2000 the ELCA approved an agreement with the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., allowing for a high degree of altar and pulpit fellowship. This agreement also means that the ELCA bishops have been restored to apostolic succession.

Lutheranism is the third largest Protestant denomination in the United States with around eight million parishioners living in the United States and Canada. There are now many Lutheran groups, with the ELCA being the largest at around five million members. In 1997 the ELCA agreed to share full communion with three other Protestant denominations, the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America.


Proponents of Lutheranism, a doctrinal and dogmatic church, claim that it revives original Christian concepts. Its formal principle is sola scriptura, holding the Bible as the only authority on theological matters. Its material principle is that justification (salvation) is altogether the work of God (soli Deo gloria) and is possible by grace alone (sola gratia) by faith alone (sola fide) in Christ alone (solus Christus). Thus anyone who truly believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and is baptized will be saved. Grace, it holds, is available to humanity through the redeeming work of Christ by his death on the cross and his new life, and Christ is the key to the understanding of the Bible.

One major thrust of Lutheran theology is a distinction between "law and Gospel," law being the rules that condemn people to hell and Gospel being the Good News that people can be forgiven their transgressions through faith. Thus, faith is sharply contrasted with "works," Lutherans being solidly opposed to justification by works, although they protest that faith always yields good works.

Lutheranism is considered to be orthodox Protestantism since it agrees with the Roman Catholic and the Greek Churches in accepting the authority of the Scriptures and of the three most ancient creeds, the Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian. Lutherans acknowledge the Book of Concord, adopted 1580, which, with the above creeds, consists of Luther's Large Catechism (1529), Luther's Catechism for Children (1529), the unaltered (Melanchthon's) Augsburg Confession (1530), the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), the Articles of Smalkald (1537), (per some synods) the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1529), and the Form of Concord (1577). The latter is composed of the Epitome of the Articles in Dispute and the Solid Declaration of Some Articles of the Augsburg Confession. The first five texts were written by Luther and co-reformer Philip Melanchthon.

Lutherans retain the Catholic altars and vestments. They accept the Catholic sacraments of (infant) baptism and Eucharist, and while they do not accept the Roman Catholic doctrine of confession their liturgy does include a rite of penitence. They believe that the "substance" of Christ's body and blood are present in the bread and wine of communion but not his literal physical body and blood. They number the Ten Commandments like Roman Catholics and not like other Protestants.

Lutherans believe in predestination, or election of grace, to salvation. This allows for freedom of human will in mundane matters but not in gifts from God. However, they do not, like Calvinists, believe in "double predestination," in which God randomly chooses who is going to heaven and who is going to hell. This question is somewhat of a muddy point and the cause of at least one schism among American Lutheran groups.

Original sin is explained as a positive and total depravity of human nature. Lutherans believe that sin came into the world by the fall of the first man and that all human beings who are born in the natural way are conceived and born in sin. They affirm that "men are unable through any efforts of their own or by the aid of 'culture and science' to reconcile themselves to God and thus conquer death and damnation." [6]

Comparison of theology[edit]

Differences between ELCA and LCMS[edit]

While the LCMS believes that the Bible is inerrant, the ELCA holds that Scripture is not always accurate on matters of history and science. The ELCA maintains the possibility of dissent to confessional positions that do not deal directly with the Gospel, while the LCMS does not. The ELCA holds that disagreement in some matters of doctrine do not prohibit church fellowship, while the LCMS holds the opposite view.

Differences between LCMS and WELS[edit]

The LCMS makes a distinction between altar and pulpit fellowship and other manifestations of Christian fellowship that do not necessarily require full doctrinal agreement, while the WELS, which broke fellowship with the LCMS in 1961, places virtually all joint expressions of the Christian faith on the same level. The LCMS holds that the office of the public ministry is the one divinely established office in the church, while the WELS denies that it is specifically instituted by God in contrast to other offices. The LCMS has concluded that Scripture does not forbid woman suffrage in the church, while the WELS opposes woman suffrage in the church as contrary to Scripture.

Differences between Lutherans and Roman Catholics[edit]

In contrast to Roman Catholics, Lutherans believe that a person is saved by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and that Scripture alone has the authority to determine doctrine. In contrast to Roman Catholics, Lutherans do not believe that the Pope has any divine authority or that it is proper based on Scripture to pray to the saints or to view Mary as a mediator between God and men.

Lutherans do not believe that the bread and wine are changed into Christ's body and blood (transubstantiation). Lutherans reject such an attempt to explain the Real Presence and affirm that one must be content to believe the simple words of Jesus as a divine mystery beyond human comprehension or explanation. Lutherans reject any understanding of the Lord's Supper as a sacrificial act on our part.

Unlike Roman Catholic priests, Lutheran clergy may marry.

Record on science[edit]

Lutheranism's founder believed that science should never supersede faith. Answers in Genesis (AIG), in an article originally appearing in Creation Ministries International's Creation magazine, explains, "Luther did not consider true science should be at odds with Scripture...Science which was at odds with Scripture was therefore false science...Scripture therefore is a greater authority than science, he argued." [7]

The AIG article also notes that Luther believed the inerrancy of Genesis is demonstrated by its simple words. In his work Lectures on Genesis, Luther affirmed, "We know, on the authority of Moses, that longer than six thousand years the world did not exist." [8] Luther was also a geocentrist and critical of the discoveries of Copernicus, as articulated in his Works, Volume 22, c. 1543: "People gave ear to an upstart astrologer [Copernicus] who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon...This fool wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred scripture tells us [Joshua 10:13] that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth."

Centuries later conservative Lutherans continued to echo his distrust of science. Professor Joe T. Ator notes, "In 1873 the publishing house of the Lutheran Synod of Missouri, published a book with the German title, Astronomische Unterredung (Astronomical Discussion), in which [the author] stated, 'the entire Holy Scripture settles the question that the Earth is the principal body of the universe, that it stands fixed, and the sun and moon only serve to light it.'" [9]

Present-day American Lutherans as well tend to place more confidence in Biblical statements than in the findings of modern science. The LCMS and WELS are both officially young earth creationist. For example, Luther's Small Catechism with Explanation, a conservative Lutheran resource often used in LCMS churches, blatantly states, "By faith Christians believe what the Word of God teaches about creation. Evolutionary theories are not scientifically verifiable." The ELCA offers no official position on this matter (although this is mainly for pragmatic reasons rather than any prevalence of creationists among its clergy; one of its synods has officially endorsed the Clergy Letter Project).

In Europe, the situation tends to be the other way; the Scripture and Science are not considered to be in contradiction, but the Scripture is to be read in the light of Science.

Record in society[edit]

Lutheranism in general supports caesaropapismWikipedia and antidisestablishmentarianism; they do, however, separate church from state in everyday life. In Europe, almost all Lutheran states are welfare states, with Sweden being considered as the model. European Lutheran churches tend to be staunch supporters of universal health care, social security, maternal care and public education. Sweden was the first state in the world to achieve 100% literacy in the 1700s.

In American history, the German Lutherans, Episcopalian and Roman Catholic churches were of the minority of religions that opposed prohibition.[10]

Revival movements[edit]

There are many "revival movements" within Lutheranism, based on pietism, which organize revival meetings and promote significantly more strict interpretations than mainstream Lutheranism. They feature charismatic lay preachers, i.e. religious leaders who are not ordained clerics. They have even their own institutions, such as Christian folk high schools (a type of an adult education center). Many of the movements require their members to follow a host of prohibitions and rules, such as bans on TV or alcohol. They have a strong community, leading to a degree of social exclusion and endogamy. The most famous is Laestadianism, which is actually a group of 19 distinct movements. The Finnish Awakening (herännäisyys) is common in certain parts of Finland, including a significant fraction of clergy. There are also "free churches". Like all other extremists, they absolutely love infighting, so there are dependent and independent sects and subsects, varying in the degree of condemning each other, or nonmembers, to hell.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. About the Lutheran World Foundation at
  2. Lutheran Numbers Grow Worldwide, Shrink in Global North., 16 February 2006.
  3. "Review of The Origins of the Freemasonry: Scotland's Century 1590–1710". Contra Mundum. Retrieved 1 December 2009.
  4. "Americanizing Lutheranism." Pastoral Meanderings: The Random Thoughts of a Lutheran Parish Pastor. November 14, 2009.
  5. "Lutheranism, Lutheran Church." Believe. 1997-2010.
  6. "Of Man and Sin." The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod. 1973-2000.
  7. "Luther on Evolution." Answers in Genesis. 2009.
  8. "Martin Luther: The damned whore, Reason." Jesus Cult.
  9. "What is Science?" Apologia.
  10. Richard J. Jensen (1971). The Winning of the Midwest: Social and Political Conflict, 1888-1896. U. of Chicago Press. p. 67