What is a Lutheran church? Is it Christian?
Yes, indeed! In fact, Martin Luther himself preferred the simple label “Christian” best of all, but we call ourselves “Evangelical Lutheran” because Evangelical (which means “good news”) refers to the Good News of justification by grace alone through faith alone because of the work of Christ alone which we proclaim; and we we use Lutheran to distinguish ourselves from other Reformation movements.
Lutherans believe in the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). In the words of the Augsburg Confession, “[T]here is one divine essence which is called God and is God: eternal, incorporeal, indivisible, of immeasurable power, wisdom, and goodness, the creator and preserver of all things, visible and invisible. Yet, there are three persons, coeternal and of the same essence and power: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Augsburg Confession, Article I).” We human beings have all fallen short (“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” Romans 3:23), and we need a Savior, who is Jesus Christ, the Son of God & our Lord, who justifies us before God as a free gift! Luther writes in the Small Catechism: “[Jesus] has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally.” It’s the best, most wonderful, gift we could ever receive!
Lutherans are Christians, believing that we are justified by God’s grace alone. Nothing we can do can save us from sin and death. God’s finished work in the person of Jesus Christ alone saves. Thank you, Jesus!
Lutherans are Christians, believing that we are saved through faith alone. Faith isn’t something we do. It’s something we have. It’s something the Holy Spirit works in our hearts. To have faith means simply to trust God’s promise of grace freely given to us through Jesus Christ, without any merit of ours at all! Just as a baby trusts that their parent will not drop them, we trust in faith that God will not abandon us.
Lutherans are Christians, believing that Scripture alone is the final authority in this world in our life of faith. Lutherans, therefore, are certainly “Bible-believing!” We celebrate God’s written word in the Bible contained in the Old & New Testaments, believing that it is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Lutheranism is a “confessional” tradition of Christianity, which means that we believe that our unique theology as set forth in the Lutheran Confessions (the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Augsburg Confession, & Luther’s Small & Large Catechisms, among other writings in the Book of Concord) is true and faithful exposition of biblical Christian faith. We believe that our uniquely Lutheran witness has ongoing relevance in our contemporary world. Our teachings on what is meant by grace & faith are what makes us Lutheran (not our worship style, or vestments, or hymns, any “external” things, or even our denominational affiliation).
What about the Sacraments?
Lutheran Christianity is a tradition of Word and Sacrament, believing that that sacraments are uniquely tangible Gospel proclamations for us. A sacrament is simply a material element (water, bread, wine, etc.) enclosed with the promises of God’s Word. As such, they are means of grace for us. They are not things that we do in our own “act of obedience,” nor are they things we earn for “being good” or having spiritually “arrived” somehow. We also do not see them as something we do for God. They are God’s work for us, God’s outpouring of undeserved grace. They are medicine for the soul.
Therefore, according to the pattern set forth in Scripture, we administer Holy Baptism with water in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our normative method is to pour the water upon the head of the individual over the baptismal font in the context of Sunday worship, but there’s nothing prohibiting us from having the pastor baptize through full immersion in the lake, for instance! As long as there’s water and the Word, it’s all good! We baptize God’s children of all ages. There’s no “correct age” for baptism in our tradition, but we do baptize babies because of the New Testament witness that entire households were baptized; and because of what we believe baptism to be: God’s pouring out of unearned forgiveness and grace. The Christian life is a daily baptismal life: dying to sin and rising to new life, trusting God’s entire forgiveness of all our sins through Jesus, thereby raising us to a new life in Christ, to love God and neighbor. If you’ve never been baptized, we invite you to talk with the pastor! It’s God’s love poured out for you, free of charge!
As baptized Christians, we are the Body of Christ in the world. To give us strength for the journey, God has given us the great gift of Holy Communion. We might alternatively call it Eucharist (from a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving”), or the Sacrament of the Altar, or the Lord’s Supper, among other terms. We celebrate Holy Communion almost every Sunday morning, gathering as the family of God at the altar table to receive the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord, present “in, with, and under” the elements of bread and wine. We are what we eat: the Body of Christ! Will you join us at the table? God’s grace abounds!