"Do Lutherans believe theirs
is the only true religion?" This question was once put to the late Dr.
Elson Ruff, editor of The Lutheran. His answer was, "Yes, but Lutherans
don't believe they are the only ones who have it. There are true Christian
believers in a vast majority of the churches, perhaps in all."
What is it, then, that Lutherans
believe and practice? Here are some brief answers to questions often asked.
Before answering the questions, however, it is well to remember that not
all Lutherans express their beliefs in exactly the same way. Within Lutheranism
there is room for differences in interpretation and understanding, but
on issues central to the faith there is, with few exceptions, common accord.
Who is Jesus Christ?
Jesus is God's son, chosen
by God to become human like us. In his life and being he broke through
the prison of sinfulness and thus restored the relationship of love and
trust that God intended to exist between himself and his children.
The man, Jesus of Nazareth,
lived and died in Palestine during the governorship of the Roman procurator,
Pontius Pilate; and we believe him to be the Messiah chosen by God to show
his love for the world. He is God, yet with all the limitations of being
human. His relationship to God, however, was not one of sin but rather
of perfect obedience to the Father's will. For the sake of a sinful world,
Jesus was condemned to death on the cross.
But death could not contain
him. On the third day after his execution, the day Christians observe as
Easter, Jesus appeared among his followers as the risen, living Lord. By
this great victory, God has declared the good news of reconciliation. The
gap between all that separates us from our Creator has been bridged. Thus,
Christ lives today wherever there are people who faithfully believe in
him, and wherever the Good News of reconciliation is preached and the Sacraments
How Do Lutherans
Look upon the Bible?
To borrow a phrase from Luther,
the Bible is "the manger in which the Word of God is laid." While Lutherans
recognize differences in the way the Bible should be studied and interpreted,
it is accepted as the primary and authoritative witness to the church's
faith. Written and transcribed by many authors over a period of many centuries,
the Bible bears remarkable testimony to the mighty acts of God in the lives
of people and nations. In the Old Testament is found the vivid account
of God's covenant relationship to Israel. In the New Testament is founding
the story of God's new covenant with all of creation in Jesus.
The New Testament is the
first-hand proclamation of those who lived through the events of Jesus'
life, death, and Resurrection. As such, it is the authority for Christian
faith and practice. The Bible is thus not a definitive record of history
or science. Rather, it is the record of the drama of God's saving care
for creation throughout the course of history.
What Do Lutherans
Believe About Creation?
Lutherans believe that God
is Creator of the universe. Its dimensions of space and time are not something
God made once and then left alone. God is, rather, continually creating,
calling into being each moment of each day.
Human beings have a unique
position in the order of creation. As males and females created in God's
image, we are given the capacity and freedom to know and respond to our
creator. Freedom implies that we can choose either positively or negatively
to respond to God. Doubtlessly, this is God's most generous gift to humankind.
for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice," an ELCA Statement on caring
for God's creation, is available from the ELCA Distribution Service (800/328-4648)
free (+ postage and handling). Order Code: 67-1185.
Where Do Lutherans
Stand on the Question of Sin?
Lutherans believe that all
people live in a condition which is the result of misused freedom. "Sin"
describes not so much individual acts of wrongdoing as fractured relationships
between the people of creation and God. Our every attempt to please God
falls short of the mark. By the standard of the Law, of which the Ten Commandments
are a classic summary, God expresses his just and loving expectations for
creation, and our failure to live up to those expectations reveals only
our need for God's mercy and forgiveness.
What Sacraments Do
Lutherans accept two Sacraments
as God-given means for penetrating the lives of people with his grace.
Although they are not the only means of God's self-revelation, Baptism
and Holy Communions are visible acts of God's love.
In Baptism, and it can be
seen more clearly in infant Baptism, God freely offers his grace and lovingly
establishes a new community. In Holy Communion -- often called the Lord's
Supper or the Eucharist -- those who come to the table receive in bread
and wine the body and blood of their Lord. This gift is itself the real
presence of God's forgiveness and mercy, nourishing believers in union
with their Lord and with each other.
Do Lutherans Believe
in Life After Death?
While there is much we do
not and cannot know about life beyond the grave, Lutherans do believe that
life with God persists even after death. Judgment is both a present and
future reality, and history moves steadily towards God's ultimate fulfillment.
This, of course, is a great
mystery and no description of what life may be like in any dimension beyond
history is possible. Anxiety for the future is not a mark of faith. Christians
should go about their daily tasks, trusting in God's grace and living a
life of service in his name.
What Must a Person
Do to Become a Lutheran?
To become a Lutheran, only
Baptism and instructions in the Christian faith is required. If you are
already baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it will
be necessary only to attend a membership class in a Lutheran congregation
and thus signify your desire to become a part of its community. Active
members of other Lutheran congregations usually need only to transfer their
For further information,
call the Lutheran congregation nearest you or use CLOSE,
the Congregation Lookup System.
*Prepared by the ELCA Department
for Communication (11/95); adapted from a pamphlet of the same name
published by Evangelical Outreach, Division for Parish Services of the
former Lutheran Church in America, now out of print.
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