Questions and Answers
The First Protestants!
The Protestant Reformation began as an attempt to reform the mediaeval Roman Catholic Church. It was an attempt to return the church to its original teaching and practice, referred to as orthodoxy. Although attempts to correct the western church had been made since the 12th century, these efforts were a subject to persecution by the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and thus were kept isolated or effectively eradicated up to the 16th century.
In 1508 Martin Luther became a professor at the University of Wittenberg. In 1512 he became a doctor of theology. All of the study and thought that Luther did in order to achieve his degrees gave him intimate knowledge of scripture. It was particularly his study of the Apostle Paul which awakened Dr. Luther to the biblical understanding that good works were not the basis for God’s gift of salvation. The basis of salvation according to Scripture alone was that by grace alone through faith alone in the merits of Christ alone the salvation of humanity was accomplished and attributed to the believer. This is all to the glory of God alone.
Because of this Luther began to understand that a believer in Christ need not could approach God through a priest but directly through Christ who is the mediator between God and humanity (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:12; 12:24). Luther’s teaching was Christocentric and stressed sola Scriptura as the foundation of all faith and teaching. This Christocentric emphasis was too dynamic to leave the Roman Catholic Church unaffected. Armed with the Word of God and the witness of the ancient teachers of Christianity Luther was moved to challenge the established dogma of the Roman Church.
It was in 1517 that Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral inviting the theological community to an academic debate on the matter of buying and selling the forgiveness of sins on what the Roman Church referred to indulgences. (An indulgence was the papal document granting of the forgiveness of sins which could be purchased from authorized merchants of indulgences). The church commonly sold indulgences as a means of financing the hierarchy and building projects of the Roman Church.
Luther’s criticism of indulgences, and his insistence that the Roman doctrine of the merits of the saints were held in trust by the Pope had no foundation in the gospel of Christ. This financial loss brought immediate reaction from the Roman leadership in the form of death warrants and religious repercussions. The Protestant position, as it came to be called in Roman circles, would come to incorporate further doctrinal reforms consistent with the teachings of Christ and the early church. The core motivation behind these changes was theological, though many other factors played a part.
The term Lutheran, which appeared as early as 1519, was coined by Luther’s opponents. The self-designation of Luther’s followers was “evangelical”—that is, centered on the Gospel. The initial movement within Germany diversified, and other reform forces arose independently of Luther. The spread of Gutenberg's printing press provided the means for the rapid dissemination of Luther’s writings and religious materials in the vernacular of the people.
Theologically, Lutheranism embraces the standard affirmations of classic Protestantism—the repudiation of papal and ecclesiastical authority in favor of the Bible (sola Scriptura), the rejection of five of the traditional seven sacraments affirmed by the Roman Catholic Church, and the insistence that human reconciliation with God is effected solely by divine grace (sola gratia), which is appropriated solely by faith (sola fide), in contrast to the notion of a convergence of human effort and divine grace in the process of salvation.
The largest groups in protest of Rome were the Lutherans and Calvinists. While Calvin’s orientation was consistently Biblical, and Luther's influence on his doctrinal formulations is undeniable, there existed, nevertheless, a distinct difference between the two reformers. Calvin's theological approach to Christianity was predominantly formal and legalistic in contrast to Luther's warm and evangelical spirit. It may be said of the two men, “Luther stresses the glory of God's love; Calvin stresses God's love of glory.”
At the beginning of the 21st century, there were more than 65 million Lutherans worldwide, making Lutheranism the second largest Protestant denomination in the world.
Are Lutherans Christian?
Lutherans are Christians and they are found throughout the world! They represent the world's third largest block of Christians and are the oldest Protestants and first Evangelicals. Lutheranism is a major branch of Protestant Christianity. Martin Luther's efforts to reform the theology and practice of the Roman Catholic Church launched the Protestant Reformation in the German-speaking territories of the Holy Roman Empire.
Like the term Christian, which originated as a derogatory term against those who believe in Jesus (Acts 11:26),so the name Lutheran originated as a derogatory term used against Martin Luther and those who believed in justification by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom. 1:17; 3:20; Gal. 2:16, etc.). Luther himself always disliked the term, preferring instead to describe the reform movement with the term Evangelical, which was derived from euangelion, a Greek word meaning "good news", i.e. "Gospel."
Unlike the Reformed tradition of the Calvinists and Zwinglians, who admittedly owe much to Luther, Lutherans retain many of the liturgical practices and sacramental teachings of early Christianity, with a particular emphasis on preaching and teaching, baptism and the Lord's Supper. There are nearly 70 million Lutherans living on every continent, speaking hundreds of languages. In the USA alone there are more than 12 million Lutheran Christians.
Today Lutherans churches that remain faithful to the Bible and their confession of faith are called conservative or confessional. These churches hold to the unaltered confession of the Bible's teaching made to the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in Augsburg, Germany, on 25 June 1530 (This witness to correct biblical teaching is referred to as the Unaltered Augsburg Confession or UAC).
Lutherans promise to depend on Scripture alone for our understandings relating to God, to trust in Jesus alone for our salvation, to trust in grace alone for Holy Scripture declares no one shall be saved by works (Romans 3). For Lutheran Christians the confession of Christ’s Gospel and the ancient battle cry still rings out:
Scripture alone! Faith alone! Grace alone! Christ alone!
Many Lutherans came to America as immigrants from northern Europe and throughout the world. Some came as missionaries. The third largest Lutheran Church, and perhaps the most confessional Lutheran group in America, is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS). It’s direct predecessor, known as The German Evangelical Ministerium of Wisconsin, was founded in 1850 by several churches in and around Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Many of the early pastors were educated and trained by mission societies in Germany. The early churches in the Wisconsin Synod had a strong German background.
The Wisconsin Synod subscribes to the Lutheran Reformation teaching of Sola scriptura—"Scripture alone." It holds that the Bible is the final authority by which church teachings can be judged. It also holds that the Holy Scripture is correctly explained and interpreted by the Book of Concord (1580) because it teaches and faithfully explains the Word of God. As such, pastors and congregations within the WELS agree to teach in accordance with it and are held accountable. The Wisconsin Synod also agrees with the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, that Bible is inspired by God and is without error. For this reason, they reject much of modern liberal scholarship.
The WELS experienced significant growth during much of the twentieth century. WELS is in fellowship with the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) and is a member of the Confessional Evangelical Lutheran Conference (CELC), a worldwide organization of Lutheran church bodies of the same beliefs.