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Lutheranism

Introduction

Lutheranism is a Christian religion, which was founded by Martin Luther during the Protestant Reformation (and thus is also a Protestant religion). This church separated from the Roman Catholic Church in the early 1500s with the intent of having the Bible and scripture as the final authority, not people. Over time Lutheranism has divided into dozens of separate churches, each of which has slightly differing sets of beliefs, however all are based on the Bible. Today some branches, including the Church of Norway, allow women to be clergy, while others do not. Additionally, some take the Bible to be a literal interpretation of the events of the past, while others, including the Church of Norway, view the Bible as more of a historical document, which allows some room for interpretation. Numerous other issues also distinguish each church of Lutheranism, such as the debate on whether or not the Eucharist is the actual body of Jesus or is simply symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus. The Lutheran faiths are among the most common of the Protestant religions and today over 80 million people follow some form of Lutheranism.

Doctrines of the Faith

Lutheranism is heavily based on the Old and New Testaments in the Bible and these books are viewed as the only Divine writings and hence, the final authority on all matters. Originally, Martin Luther preached that the Bible was to be interpreted literally as he believed it was the Word of God. However, in the 1800s and 1900s many Lutherans began taking on a more interpretive view of the Bible. Today the Bible remains the final authority on all matter for the Lutherans. Many Lutherans believe the Bible was written by the Holy Spirit through people and prophets. Most Lutherans believe in an eternal afterlife, but also believe that Original Sin makes people flawed. Jesus is believed to have been sent to earth to forgive people of sins and it is believed by most that Jesus is God and His sacrifice, death, and resurrection allow people to enter eternal life. Lutherans believe in a Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and that these are three distinct entities, but all are God. Lutherans believe that the Bible can be interpreted by any individual and that these interpretations are no more correct than any other interpretation of the Bible. In other words, it is the individual, not the Lutheran Church that interprets the meaning of the Bible. Despite this flexibility, most Lutherans interpret the Bible in a similar way and each individual church also tends to preach a particular interpretation that is commonly accepted by its parishioners. Many Lutherans believe that eternal salvation can only be granted by the Holy Spirit through faith. In fact many Lutherans believe that faith alone grants access to celestial glory. Good, or bad, acts don't contribute to a person's fate in the afterlife; instead, good acts are the result of the faith, not the cause of salvation. Since Lutherans tend to believe that all that is needed can be found in the Bible, there are no additional documents that explain or supplement the Bible. However, each individual Lutheran church, or association of Lutheran churches can adopt additional standards for governing the church. In other words, the Bible is the "Gospel" and nothing is above it, but additional documents or books can be use as "Law" for the governance, structure, and organization of Lutheran churches. The Book of Concord is a set of documents that help define the Lutheran Church, however they expressly state that they are not scripture of any form, but rather that the Bible is the only truth. How much of this book, the Book of Concord, that is followed varies significantly.

Sacraments

There is no set number of sacraments in Lutheranism and what exactly is defined as a sacrament is questionable. The two agreed upon, and most important, sacraments are baptism and communion. Baptism is seen as the rebirth into a life of grace and with baptism comes faith, a gift from God that is given to an individual, whether he or she is seeking it or not. Baptism is given to both infants and adults in Lutheranism. Sometimes confession or absolution is considered a separate sacrament, however this act absolves a person of sins, much like baptism does so the two are often considered a single sacrament, or sometimes as two sacraments that accomplish the same outcome. The second sacrament is communion or Eucharist. In this sacrament people receive Jesus through bread and wine. As stated above, there is debate on whether the bread and wine are symbolic of the body and blood of Jesus or if they are literally the body and blood of Jesus.

Lutheran Mass & Liturgy

The liturgy of a Lutheran service is centered on communion or Eucharist, however it also includes a large number of readings, prayers, music, and other traditions. While communion is the central part of a mass and the readings from the Bible are viewed as the Word of God, the rest of a mass is highly flexible. Music, prayers, and ceremonies can vary drastically and many Lutheran churches today have altered these items to cater to the local people, their preferences, their interpretation of the Bible, and even their local cultures.

Church Hierarchy & Organization

Since anyone can interpret the Bible, Lutheran churches tend to avoid much organizational structure or hierarchy. Lutherans simply believe that the Word of God is written in the Bible and that the Bible is the Gospel. How that is interpreted from region to region and from individual to individual varies so there is no over-arching organization or hierarchy that dictates what is correct or incorrect. Despite this lack of church hierarchy, there are numerous branches of Lutheranism that share interpretations and beliefs. For example, the Church of Norway and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America share many beliefs and interpretations of the Bible, but follow different laws. Thousands of individual Lutheran churches belong to a single denomination and hence may share similar beliefs, although even these large denominations don't dictate what should or should not be believed. On a larger scale, there are huge Lutheran organizations, such as the Lutheran World Federation and the International Lutheran Council, which unite many of these denominations, but again these organizations don't dictate the Gospel of the Church.

This page was last updated: September, 2014