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What is a Lutheran?

To be a Lutheran is to be a Christian (not the other way around!). Many characteristics of the Lutheran way are also traits of other Christian traditions. Lutherans have no monopoly on certain ways of being Christian, but are part of the ‘church catholic' (‘catholic' means ‘universal').

The Lutheran Church comes out of Martin Luther's sixteenth-century protesting of certain Roman Catholic church teachings for which Luther found no biblical basis. His primary insight into the Gospel was that salvation is never earned by our own effort, but is a free gracious gift of God. Thus, Lutherans have ties to Roman Catholicism (Martin Luther was, after all, an Augustinian monk), as well as to other Protestant churches.

Lutheran Christians confess Jesus as the Christ, the Savior of the World. Through Jesus, God has said to us, ‘Yes. I made you. I sustain you. I love you. I give you forgiveness, wholeness, and eternal life. The gift is unconditional. You need not be somebody or do anything to deserve the gift. It's free and can't be bought for any price! Only receive it by faith.' Faith is not intellectual acceptance of doctrines about God, but dynamic, life-changing trust that God's promises will be kept. The good works that we do are done out of thankfulness to God for what we have already received, not out of a need to earn God's favour.

Within the church, Lutherans are committed to:

  • the task of reminding ourselves that we are catholic. We are not a breakaway sect but a part of the continuation of the universal church built upon the foundation of Christ and the apostles. We live for the healing of division within the whole church.
  • the task of serving as an evangelical teaching movement within the universal church - teaching that God's unconditional grace in Christ is the center of the Christian faith. We joyfully proclaim the good news - God comes in flesh and says YES to all humanity.
  • the task of living as a reforming movement - constantly letting the Holy Spirit show us where our personal and corporate lives must change in order to conform to the Gospel. When the Spirit directs us to reformation (of our own lives, the church, our society), we act in obedient trust. We seek peace and justice, calling for and working for necessary reform in God's creation.
  • Commitment to all of this cannot be sustained without prayer. We come together regularly to praise God and receive nurture and guidance. We take the Bible seriously, trusting that although some of it may appear to be straw, it holds the precious Word of God just as the manger held Jesus (God's Word made flesh). We receive Baptism and Holy Communion as renewed promises that God will not ever or finally forsake us but remains as close to us and to the world as cleansing water, bread, and wine.

    (adapted from Baptized We Live: Lutheranism as a way of life by Daniel Erlander, © 1981 Daniel W. Erlander).


On being Lutheran - It matters to our lives of faith and to our witness in the world

By Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, President of the Lutheran World Federation and Co-Patron of the Anglican-Lutheran Society

Who are we as Lutherans? Does it matter that we are Lutherans? Does being Lutheran Christians shape who we are and how we live? Is being Lutheran an obstacle to being an evangelising church engaged in God’s mission…?

I am convinced that being Lutheran matters to our lives of faith and to our witness in the world. Rather than distancing ourselves from being Lutheran, let us draw from the wellspring of our confessional, theological, liturgical heritage with renewed commitment. We do so not to define ourselves apart from others in the body of Christ but to claim our identity as part of Christ’s church.

As Lutheran Christians, we are becoming an evangelising church in a Lutheran key. We ask, “What gospel are we proclaiming?” and believe the good news is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith for Jesus’ sake. Any other gospel but this radical word of God’s grace must be challenged and finally rejected.

As Lutheran Christians, we centre worship around the means of grace. At the heart of worship is the announcement through word and sacrament that God in Christ is mercifully present for us. Around these central things there will be music and language, symbol and dance, prayers and silence that reflect the diversity of our context and rich heritage.

As Lutheran Christians, we believe our central identity is given to us in baptism. We are children of the Triune God - forgiven, loved, reconciled and free. We are joined to Christ’s death and Christ’s living body the church. As the baptised, we promise “to live among God’s faithful people.” Therefore, we will always be tending to and expanding our ecumenical and global relationships.

As Lutheran Christians, we begin each day with the sign of the cross, remembering God’s baptismal grace in Christ. We live our faith in our varied callings as family members, citizens, stewards of God’s creation, students and workers. This faith becomes active in love and service as, together, we strive for justice and peace.

As Lutheran Christians, we believe faith seeks understanding, so we are taught to ask, “What does this mean?” Theologian Joseph Sittler reminded us that the wonder of life that is God’s grace frees us to ask questions that transcend the moment. With humility we live in the confidence of faith. We acknowledge we cannot know always with certainty what God is doing. Yet paradoxically, we know God calls us to be part of God’s work for the life of the world.

As Lutheran Christians, we cling to the cross to remind us that the hidden God is revealed in the midst of suffering, struggle and death as a God of mercy. In the power and promise of Christ’s resurrection, we face the future not in fear but in hope.

As Lutheran Christians, we believe God’s word is God’s living speech incarnate in Jesus the Christ, proclaimed in the gospel and recorded in Scripture. Lutherans affirm that the Scriptures are the “authoritative source and norm” of the Christian faith and life. We believe the word of God is law and gospel, command and promise.

Extracts from an article that appeared in the April 2006 issue of The Lutheran.

Copyright © 2006 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). All rights reserved. This copyright notice must appear on all copies and reproductions. Copies may be produced for distribution within the ELCA by affiliated ELCA organizations.

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