What it Means to be "Lutheran"
The following text includes excerpts from, and paraphrased passages from, the publication "Who Are Lutherans," written by theologian Martin E. Marty, ©1999 Augsburg Fortress.
Lutherans are Christians... with our own understanding of what it means to be "born again." Lutherans, like other catholic Christians, baptize infants, believing that God works grace in us. In fact, we believe that every day and in every act of serious return to God we are returning to our baptism. We come forth as new people, which means that we are born again– and again and again.
Lutherans are Sinners.... but we believe in Forgiveness. When we consider our religious beliefs, we confess what you soon find out: we all fall short of God's expectations. This same God, a loving God, forgives us. We believe that it is God acting for and in us, and not our own acts, that brings forgiveness.
We call this "justification by grace through faith." As a result we are re-newed people who are not haunted by guilt or bothered by worry. We trust God who comes to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Lutherans are "Protestants" …who are also "catholic." As Protestants, we continue the reformation begun in European churches in the 15th century. Being catholic, we believe that Christ’s church is universal, and that we are connected with Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and other Christians who stress their ties to Christ's church everywhere and through the ages.
The name Lutheran refers to Martin Luther, a German monk and an Old Testament professor, who came to renewed understanding of the good news almost 500 years ago. We do not worship Martin Luther, but we do celebrate what God worked through him. Luther’s writings called for church reform, and led to protests---now known as the Protestant Reformation. His statement on justification by grace through faith, for example, remains a central, distinct characteristic of Lutheran understanding today.
Lutherans are worshipers.. who think of worship not as a pastor's performance but as the people's service. We are sacramental: along with baptism we celebrate the Eucharist (or Lord's Supper or Holy Communion) frequently, (in our many churches, every week.)
We believe that Jesus Christ is present when we gather in faith for this sacred meal.
Lutheran Worship stresses preaching in the form of a sermon that addresses the needs of sinners and announces the loving activity of God. God is present when humans speak the divine word, so Lutherans gather to hear it together.
We believe that the Christian good news knows no racial, ethnic, economic, national, or gender-related boundaries. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is organized to give emphasis to it’s desire that men and women of all ethnicities share equally in the benefits and tasks that go with Christian life.
We also believe that God speaks to people through the scriptures, and so we revere personal Bible reading in addition to personal prayer. We are serious about our devotion to God but do not prescribe special postures or mannerisms.
Music and Singing enhance our worship services, and help us focus on a gracious God. Lutheran worship includes song and prayer from many Christian traditions.
Lutherans are Evangelical... We reach out to share the message of God's grace, the good news, or gospel, of Jesus Christ. We try to look beyond ourselves to bring the gospel to community life with people of other faiths, and those of no faith. We welcome others to worship with us. We want the church to be as united as Christ prayed it would be.
We confess our faith through creeds and statements designed to set forth our distinctive Lutheran understanding about a gracious God. We do not think of ourselves as better than others– we do believe all Christians should speak clearly of their understandings of faith.
Lutheran congregations are connected by synods and by church bodies like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which has over five million members. We pool our resources so that together we can better reach out to people in need everywhere.
We Want to Make a Difference … we take the divine law with utter seriousness, but are not "legalists." We know we can not please God simply by following laws, nor can we ever come to perfection. We believe that we are to make our faith active in love. Where there is no love, no generosity, no service to others, we suspect that there is an absense or weakness of faith.
Through organized groups and individual action, Lutherans are part of public life. They want to work for justice, as biblical prophets and New Testament believers did.
We also participate in works of mercy and healing, evidenced by the name “Lutheran" on so many hospitals, social service agencies, and relief projects makes clear. Our efforts also involve many non-Lutheran partners.
We also believe that as stewards, all of life and health, all possessions and capabilities are, in a sense, on loan from God the Creator.
We educate leaders, through learned ministries and cherished skilled professional workers. We stress leadership, made possible by the larger church. Lay Christians as well as ordained ministers make up what Martin Luther called "a priesthood of all believers." All are ministers. Lay people, in teamwork with pastors, take initiatives to help see that Christ is represented among them in their communities.
Lutherans are hopeful people. We respond to God's love by reaching out to others to tell and to demonstrate the good news of Jesus Christ. We believe that with God, anything is possible.
We invite others who are not now active in Christian communities to join us in the challenges which a trouble-filled world presents, and to rejoice with us in the promises with which a loving God greets us all.