Faith, Worship, History And an Invitation!
What Do Lutherans Believe?
Grace. Faith. Christ.
Lutheranism is a worldwide movement within Christianity. Lutherans believe that God saves people by grace alone, that we receive this gift by faith alone, and that it is offered to us for the sake of Christ alone.
In other words, we do not save ourselves with good works, or by right doctrine. We are saved by God, as a gift of love.
Lutherans -- or Evangelicals, as we first called ourselves -- arose as a movement within Western Christianity during the 16th Century. The faith of the Christian people had been gradually undermined by distortions of official doctrine. Money and power had corrupted the hierarchy, while ordinary people lived in perpetual fear of damnation.
An Augustinian friar named Martin Luther tried to raise a red flag, warning against dangerous misrepresentations of the Church's traditional belief. The Pope and most bishops would not listen to Luther; but his ideas caught on with many of the lower clergy, including monks and theologians. Eventually, there were two parties within the Catholic Church: Romanists, so-called because of their allegiance to the Pope; and Evangelicals, who used this name to emphasize their faith in the Gospel, or teaching of grace.
Because we accept the Scriptures, creeds and ancient traditions of the Church, Lutherans think of ourselves as Catholics. But we are not Romanists -- we are Evangelical Catholics.
More about Luther: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Luther
Lutherans believe that the Bible is the Word of God, because it testifies to Christ, who is the Word made flesh. Like most Christians in the Catholic tradition, we accept the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. (Learn more at: http://www.creeds.net/ )
This means we believe that God is a Holy Trinity, of Father, Son and Spirit. We believe that the sacrament of Holy Baptism is a gift of new life, and that Christ is present in, with and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion. We celebrate Mass on Sundays and holy days.
We believe that the Gospel is presented accurately and honestly by a group of documents that we call our "Confessions of Faith," and which are collected in the Book of ConcordB. Some of these are documents by Martin Luther, including his famous Small Catechism, which we still use for instructing newcomers to the faith.
The central statement of the Lutheran tradition is the Augsburg Confession, which was written by Philip Melanchthon and presented by the Evangelical princes of Germany to the Emperor in 1530, as a brief, clear statement of their faith.
Online versions of the Augsburg Confession (or "Augustana") and some of the other confessions can be found at Project Wittenberg. Unfortunately, they do not have a copy of Melanchthon's Apology for the Augsburg Confession -- a very important explanation of what the Reformers meant. For that, you will have to go to Project Gutenberg. Pay special attention to Chapter 24!
Or better yet, buy yourself a copy of the Book of Concord. We recommend the version edited by Wengert and Kolb. Here it is!
Here are some online resources for learning more about Lutheran teachings:
In some congregations, Lutheran worship is very formal. The Sunday Mass may be chanted by a priest wearing historic vestments, surrounded by acolytes, accompanied by a choir and organ. Expect Sanctus bells, incense, the works.
In other congregations, Lutheran worship is very informal. The minister may wear plain white robe, or even blue jeans; the hymns may be old favorites, or modern praise choruses, sung along to a guitar.
At Trinity Lutheran Church of Long Island City, we blend a deep respect for the historic traditions of the liturgy with a love of the very modern life of a multicultural New York neighborhood. In any given service, we might share Bach and Andrae Crouch, Taize chant and Norwegian folk tunes. Along with our historic E.M. Skinner organ, you may hear handbells, maracas or the musical saw!
Perhaps the best description of our worship is "traditional eclectic." But why settle for an online description? Come and join us! We celebrate Holy Communion every Sunday at 10:30, and the third Sunday of each month includes a healing service.
Lutherans and Other Christians
"We will omit nothing, so far as God and conscience allow, that serves the cause of Christian unity." That is what the first Evangelicals said, when they presented the Augsburg Confession to their Emperor. They meant it -- and their descendants still do. We dream of the day that all Christians are united.
Despite a slow start, Lutherans have emerged as leaders of the modern ecumenical movement. After decades of dialogue, we have entered into full communion with Anglican, Moravian, and Calvinist churches in the United States and Europe. This means that, while we remain separate church bodies, we recognize in each other the true teaching of the Gospel and administration of the sacrmaents. Communicants are welcome at each other's altars, and under certain circumstances, clergy may serve in each other's congregations.
We are in ongoing dialogue with Orthodox, Methodist, AME and Mennonite churches.
And in 1999, Lutheran and Roman Catholic officials joined together in an historic agreement, the "Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification." We agreed that mutual condemnations of the Reformation era no longer apply to the teachings of our current churches. We agreed that salvation is a gift of grace, received through faith and offered for the sake of Christ. While a restoration of unity may be a long way off, this was a significant step in the right direction. To learn more: http://www.elca.org/ecumenical/ecumenicaldialogue/romancatholic/jddj/