What does it mean to be a Lutheran?
During the 16th century, Martin Luther challenged the teachings, practices and structures of the Roman Catholic Church. He insisted that the central message of Christianity is the good news that sinners become reconciled to God by grace through faith—because of the saving work of Jesus Christ.
It’s important to remember that Luther didn’t intend to start a new church. He wanted to reform the existing church so the gospel message was communicated clearly and the life of the church reflected that gospel center. Lutherans organized into a separate church only after the Roman Catholic Church repeatedly rejected Luther’s views. (The Roman Catholic and Lutheran churches have since recognized our common ground and partnership as Christians in service of God.)
Core Beliefs of Lutherans
Grace! We believe that we are justified to God only through the grace of Christ. We cannot earn God’s grace (our salvation) through our works, it is given to us through Christ.
Law and Gospel: Lutherans have a distinct way of reading the Scriptures, based on Luther’s insight that God’s word comes to us in two forms—law and gospel. The law as command tells people what we should do. The gospel as promise tells us what God in Christ has already done for us.
Theology of the Cross: This refers not just to the events of Good Friday. It also refers to a cross-centered approach to theology that stands in opposition to a “theology of glory” which looks up and says, “God’s in heaven and all’s well with the world.” A theology of the cross, in contrast, keeps its feet firmly planted on our broken Earth and says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to God.” People of the cross always live at the foot of the cross trusting in the immeasurable grace of Christ.
Saint and Sinner: Luther described Christians as simultaneously “saint and sinner.” Some religious traditions distinguish between “saints,” who obey God’s will, and “sinners,” who disobey. Lutherans cling to a both/and understanding of Christian identity that redefines the word “saint”: a saint is a forgiven sinner.
Vocation: The term “vocation” literally means “calling.” Luther expanded this idea from applying only to those with a calling to specific ministries, to instead include all people. He taught that we all have a responsibility to teach God’s Word and pray for others. And Luther affirmed that all human work is a calling from God if done in faith and for the service of neighbor.