LUTHERANISM. Among all the major individual varieties of Latin Christianity to emerge from the Reformation, Lutheranism stands alone for two reasons. In the first place, it bears the name of an individual. Secondly, its hallmark, more vital even than the reference to Martin Luther (1483–1546), consists of its formal, agreed-upon confessions of faith, in particular the Unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530), but also (save in Scandinavia) the Formula of Concord (1577) and the other documents contained in the Book of Concord (1580), which claim faithfulness to both the Scriptures and Luther's teachings. To answer the question, "What is Lutheranism?" therefore requires, at least in principle, no more than a careful reading of these theological sources with the understanding that conduct flowed from conviction. It can be no surprise, then, that Lutherans have traditionally relegated all other religious matters—liturgy, polity, hymnody, spirituality, and the like—to the realm of adiaphora or "things indifferent." The teachings were at the time of the Reformation, and remain now, the heartbeat of Lutheranism.
By contrast, even the finest of Lutheran scholarship has little to say about its distinctive characteristics, if any, with respect to its political, social, intellectual, artistic, and cultural preferences over time. Thus, even its hymnody and its vibrant traditions in choral music were put in service to its teachings. For the unengaged student, Lutheranism presents the unavoidable impression that all matters which make it a distinct variety of Christianity have rightly had a theological, as well as musical, standard applied to them. To the uninitiated and the veteran alike, it may well appear that once one has gotten the teachings of the Lutherans correct and arranged them in their proper relationships to one another, one has grasped all that is essential when it comes to understanding Lutheranism in almost any place and time. One is reminded of nothing so much as the words on the back of a coin struck in Württemberg on the fiftieth anniversary of the posting of the Ninety-Five Theses: "God's Word and Luther's Teachings are Never to be Forgotten!"
Luther had been in his grave for more than twenty years when this medal was struck. The Formula of Concord, to say nothing of the period of Lutheran Orthodoxy, did not yet exist. But the conviction that true doctrine was the equivalent of true religion did. Indeed, this very characteristic is not a caricature and, no matter how obvious it is, it must be underlined whenever one seeks to penetrate to the core of Lutheranism. Luther himself reportedly declared, "Others before me have contested practice, but to contest doctrine, that is to grab the goose by the neck!"
Even when one rightly approaches the core of Lutheranism by way of its teachings, there remain more and less enlightening ways to do so. One can, as noted above, and rather in the manner of Lutheran Orthodoxy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, turn the exercise into an utterly misleading game of theological pick-up sticks. If, however, the objective is to render an image of Lutheranism that encompasses its whole as well as its many parts, one further and rather subtler characteristic must be given its due. Luther was indeed a theologian, and Lutheranism does indeed remain a highly theological version of even Latin Christianity. But, both Luther and the movement that sprang from him had almost no inclinations to systematic theology in a manner that might be recognized by, for example, Thomas Aquinas.
Neither Luther nor Lutherans in general have sought to create a Summa Theologica in which everything from the creation ex nihilo to human procreation has its own perfectly consistent theological understanding. This is not to say that Lutheran religious thought consisted merely of random insights on one unrelated topic after another in the manner of some types of mysticism. Instead, the consistency or univocality of Lutheran theology derived from its genesis over time from a single, unitary point of departure. Thus it began, by Luther's own testimony, with his personal search for a gracious God. He had been taught that the righteousness of God was a quality of God against which this divine judge measured all humans and found them wanting. On the bases of his lectures and writings from late 1518 through mid-1519, it is now a matter of nearly absolute certainty that he consciously rejected what he had been taught and then gradually came to understand God's righteousness as a gift that God bestowed on humanity and by which he reconciled mankind to himself. Thus, the famous passage, "The righteous (iustus, 'made righteous') shall live by faith" applied directly not only to the theology he taught as a professor at Wittenberg but also to his personal religious life. "Faith" itself was no longer an attribute that played a role in moving the sinner toward salvation but the central, unwilled response to having been made righteous by the benefits of Christ. By comparison with sola gratia, Luther did not even use the terms sola fide and sola scriptura with much frequency. They did not do more than indicate the principal source for and the manner by which the Christian received and held grace.
The theology that marked Lutheranism was therefore intensely practical and rarely, before Kant, speculative or philosophical in the least. Two examples will illustrate the point. The first concerns the subject of predestination, which came under dispute during the 1560s in a few places that were, for the most part, south of the Main River and along the Rhine—most notably in Strasbourg. Those who introduced the issue were commonly Italian converts to Calvinism such as Girolamo Zanchi (1516–1590) and Peter Martyr Vermigli (1500–1562). The issue, certainly related theologically to Luther's position in De servo arbitrio (1525; On the bondage of the will), nonetheless never caught fire among the German Lutherans. In its eleventh article, the Formula of Concord observed that the subject had not been an issue "among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession" and then addressed it anyway. Taking the approach and even borrowing some of the language that was used at Strasbourg in 1561–1563, the formulators declared that there were good biblical grounds in support of both the doctrine of election and the assertion that Christ came for all. But, because God's predestining belonged to his hidden will and Christ's coming for all to his revealed will, Lutherans would henceforth ignore predestination and preach only what God had revealed to all. For the most part, Lutherans to this day have carefully observed this self-denying ordinance. They were single-minded about the original insight regarding justification and remained tenaciously within it.
A second illustration from Luther himself may also be revealing. It concerns the subject of "hiddenness" and a similar, related principle of self-denial in general. Luther observed, for example, that everyone of sound mind could know that God existed, that he created all things, that he was omnipotent, and so forth. What humans could not know were God's intentions toward them because God had hidden and continued to hide this knowledge in the folly of Christ. Moreover, this keen awareness of what God has revealed and what he has hidden guided even Luther's exegetical practices. Consequently, his biblical lectures often contained the declaration regarding a particular passage, "It is too dark there. I cannot go there because all is hidden." Indeed, his first reaction to Johann Agricola of Eisleben's (c. 1494–1566) insistence that the Law should not be preached to the saved (the fundamental issue at stake in Lutheranism's first Antinomian Controversy, which involved the notion that a saved Christian was free from the dictates of the Law) was not to press on to the truth of the matter but—in part because he was one of Luther's favorite students—that Agricola should stop talking about the matter.
Nonetheless, little more than a generation had passed before Luther's followers had fallen into so many internecine theological quarrels that Jakob Andreae of Württemberg (1528–1590) and others took up the work that led to the Formula of Concord. In addition to predestination, Andreae and his colleagues addressed ten such controversies that threatened to undo the unity implied in the name "theologians of the Augsburg Confession." To modern ears, some of these issues were truly frivolous and may have derived more from some individuals' vanity than serious theological considerations. Georg Major's (1469–1550) tactic of expressing Luther's views of the place of works in the economy of salvation may be a case in point. Somehow, his declaration that "Good works are dangerous to salvation" seems intended more to enrage than to enlighten. It is easy to understand Philipp Melanchthon's (1497–1560) giving thanks at the point of death for at last being released from the rabies theologorum ('the madness of the theologians').
With this much granted to the merely human, the emphasis should fall here on two related practical, political realities that forced theological reflection. The first was Emperor Charles V's (ruled 1519–1556) victory over the Schmalkaldic League in 1547–1548 and his determination to establish religious peace within the empire by force if necessary. Thus, the Augsburg Interim required of the Lutheran rulers that they reinstitute the Mass in their territories, provide for an unmarried clergy, and cease secularizing religious foundations, among other, more local, arrangements. In addition, by putting the free imperial city of Constance under siege, the emperor demonstrated that he was more than willing to employ force during this interim before the calling of a general council. Consequently, in order to meet these terms, Strasbourg found itself compelled to negotiate a treaty with its long-time non-resident bishop, while Magdeburg to the northeast resisted imperial pressure successfully by holding firm behind its outlying marshes to defend its choice of resistance. At the same time, Maurice, called on account of his political behavior the "Judas of Meissen," now enjoying the title elector of Saxony (1547–1553), found so much resistance to the new order in his territories that he felt compelled to negotiate a somewhat milder version, called the Leipzig Interim, whose intent was to defend Lutheran doctrine, albeit without much regard for contrary practices, in the face of these temporary practical concessions.
A genuine theological problem lay at what became an internecine pamphlet war among the theologians of the Augsburg Confession. Mathias Flaccius Illyricus (1520–1575) led the defenders of Magdeburg's policy on the grounds that the Leipzig Interim violated the spirit, if not the letter, of true Lutheranism. In this instance, there was no authoritative text to which the parties could turn, if only because the Augsburg Confession's seventh article was silent with respect to any of the specifics regarding what actions (or lack thereof) fell under the umbrella of "things indifferent." According to the Magdeburgers with Matthias Flaccius Illyricus, the "Genesio" or Original Lutherans (as they were now called) insisted that while some practices, such as the celebration of the Mass, might be indifferent in themselves, they were intolerable in a Lutheran territory, because they in fact promoted a false gospel. The outrage was so great that there are present-day Lutherans who still call themselves Genesios. During the late 1570s, its simple existence forced the inclusion of Section X in the Formula of Concord, which basically endorsed the Genesios' position.
The decade from the mid-1540s to the mid-1550s also called for greater theological precision in imperial politics. The Religious Peace of Augsburg (1555) inserted the Augsburg Confession (1530) into the imperial constitution by declaring that adherents to it would be guaranteed a modicum of religious freedom, depending on the confession of the town or principality that was their home. This is the famous provision that is summarized with the anachronistic term cuius regio eius religio, according to which the ruler's confession determined the religion of the town or principality. Some try incorrectly to draw from this provision the beginnings of state-dominated religion. Instead, this provision merely stated that the prevailing religion in any territory or city was to be the one that existed there before the Schmalkaldic War.
There was a problem, however, lurking beneath the easy reference to the Augsburg Confession as the imperial confessional standard. Which Augsburg Confession? In 1540 Melanchthon had been given the task of revising the version that was submitted at Augsburg in 1530 in light of the Wittenberg Concord of 1536. Specifically, he had used the language, approved expressly by Luther, cum pane et vino ('with bread and wine') rather than in pane et vino ('in bread and wine') as a way to describe just how the consecrated elements in the Lord's Supper were presented as the body and blood of Christ. One change of preposition provided certain Reformed theologians, notably those active at the court of the elector palatine, just enough room to assert that their understanding of the spiritual presence of the body and the blood came under the umbrella of "the Augsburg Confession" and therefore of the Peace of Augsburg.
At last an assembly of evangelical princes, meeting at the request of the elector palatine at Naumburg in January 1561, declared that the standard was the invariata (the version of 1530), but that the variata (Melanchthon's version of 1540) might be used to explain its teaching on contentious issues. No sooner had they returned home than they were confronted with a round-robin inquiry from Emperor Ferdinand I (ruled 1558–1564), in which he asked whether the elector palatine was or was not in harmony with the Unaltered Augsburg Confession of 1530. They replied that, while perhaps technically he was not, the emperor should not presume to take any actions against him.
These festering disagreements and Reformed aggressiveness in northern Germany go much of the way to explaining why, about seventy-five years later, in the aftermath of the Battle of White Mountain, the Lutheran princes decided to sit on their hands when General Albrecht Wenzel Eusebius von Wallenstein attacked the Electoral Palatinate, deposed the elector, reduced parts of Heidelberg to ashes, shipped the contents of the university library, the Palatinum, off to the pope as a gift, and inaugurated the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648). Certain developments within Lutheranism contributed to this decision not to intervene in defense of a generous interpretation of the Peace of Augsburg. Perhaps it was the price the Reformed were called upon to pay for their aggressive attempts over the past seventy years to convert Lutheran princes. In the event, it was Germany, and in particular northern, Lutheran Germany that paid the price by becoming the playground for armies from all over Europe, while the south had the burden of paying for it all.
The reference above to "certain developments within Lutheranism" points to the two paths between which Lutherans chose beginning in the early seventeenth century and continuing on through the mid-eighteenth century. They persist to this day under the terms "Pietism" and "Lutheran Orthodoxy." Both had deep roots. As should be evident, Orthodoxy can claim parentage in the heavily doctrinal character of Lutheranism from the outset, through the Genesio Lutherans, the Formula of Concord, Martin Chemnitz with his monumental Examination of the Council of Trent (1565–1573), and into the professorial life of seventeenth-century Lutheran theological faculties. Pietism, on the other hand, can claim its origins with Martin Bucer (1491–1551) of Strasbourg and a tradition that produced such luminaries in the movement toward a more "heartfelt" religion, as evident in two later products of Strasbourg, Johannes Arndt (1555–1621) and his Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (1606; Four books on true Christianity), and Philipp Jakob Spener (1635–1705), the collegia pietatis, and his Pia Desideria (1675), which is still read and cherished by many. That the two parties did not think well of one another is evident from the story about Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750), who was frustrated by a powerful Pietist preacher at the Church of St. Thomas in Leipzig. It was said that whenever he encountered the preacher on the street, Bach would "compose and throw another fugue" at him.
One may legitimately wonder whether Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss, despite the evident reference to followers of Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz, was a parody of Lutheran theologians he had met. Research has only begun on these theologians, but two matters are presently apparent. In the first place, they were indeed extremely learned men who brought to their tasks Aristotle, both of the Metaphysics and the Posterior Analytics, the ancient authority whose very dominance of Wittenberg's theological faculty Luther once celebrated. Secondly, it was the Orthodox who turned the substance of Lutheranism into a laundry list of virtually self-standing doctrines that the theologian needed only to memorize. While so doing, they no longer studied Luther himself nor did they cite him in their general histories of doctrine or their works on specific theological topics. Finally, their influence lasted long past the eighteenth century and can be said to have peaked in the nineteenth century. This is not to say that no one read Luther any longer. The Finnish "Luther Readers" both in Finland and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan read him regularly, but more for the sake of spiritual enrichment than of theological learning. It was left to the Swedish Luther Renaissance of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries to return to a genuinely theological-critical study of Luther himself.
Save in a few synodical groupings and a handful of individuals, notably in North America, Lutheran Orthodoxy is no longer particularly influential. Pietism in both vibrant and decadent forms is a different matter. Beginning with Bucer, who was truthfully more a religious thinker and churchman than a theologian, those with Pietist proclivities have downplayed the theological character of Lutheranism as a distortion that drew the believer's attention away from the inclination of the heart, moral behavior, and the amendment of life that must follow the hearing of the Gospel.
To take but two examples, one at the beginning and the other near the end of the story, in the mid-1530s Bucer wrote a book called The True Care of Souls. In it (among other concerns) he listed Christians by type according to the extent to which they approximated the ideal and then prescribed different forms of pastoral care that would help them advance on the classification table. He did bow toward the central teaching from Luther that a Christian remained simul iustus et peccator ('at the same time righteous and a sinner'). But this was for him merely a background principle to the main task of creating more genuine believers and moral members of the church on earth. Still, Bucer's list of exercises remained some distance from Luther's insistence that true pastoral care occurred in the preaching of God's Word, which did all that could be done to create true people of God.
Spener differed from Bucer first in that he openly criticized the theologians and churchmen of his day for their self-serving lack of attention to improving the tenor of Christian life. Secondly, he favored the establishment where possible of collegia pietatis ('colleges of piety') in which the truly repentant and committed would withdraw to increase their search for true piety and their willingness to perform good works. Bucer, too, had engaged himself in similar work, known as the Christliche Gemeinschaften or ecclesiolae in ecclesia ('little churches within the church'), shortly before being forced as a condition of the Interim to leave Strasbourg for England while under a storm of criticism from both the government and many of his fellow pastors for the tendencies of these small fellowships to split the existing parishes and churches. It should be noted that these efforts were not strictly anti-dogmatic but simply did not evidence much interest in public teachings. The Pietist movement reached its apogee in August Hermann Francke (1663–1727) with his school and later university at Halle, institutions that came to specialize in the training of servants for the Prussian bureaucracy.
Lutheranism in the main experienced the same fate as most other branches of Christianity during the early modern period. By the end of the eighteenth century, true religion had retreated from the public sphere into the private. Whereas the "two kingdoms" through which God ruled his creation—the world of daily affairs in politics, society, and business, and the world of faith—had once served one another, by the end of early modern times, the kingdom of the world had come to dominate. Lutheranism in both its Orthodox and Pietist forms thus abandoned the public sphere to a heretofore-unknown realm of religious indeterminacy, and it did so well before the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. By their own doing, Lutherans turned true religion into a private matter that was by and large excluded from the "real world" of politics, business, and society. Christendom had died. Europe was born.
See also Luther, Martin ; Melanchthon, Philipp ; Pietism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Schmalkaldic War .
The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Translated by Charles Arand, et al. Edited by Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert. Minneapolis, 2000.
Luther, Martin. D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe. Weimar, 1883–. Comprises Luther's published works, correspondence, the German Bible, and table talks. Commonly referred to as "the Weimar edition" or simply "WA."
——. Luther's Works. Translated and edited by Jaroslav Pelikan, Helmut Lehmann, et al. 55 vols. St. Louis and Philadelphia, 1955–1986.
——. Sources and Contexts of The Book of Concord. Edited by Robert Kolb and James A. Nestingen. Minneapolis, 2001.
Brecht, Martin. Martin Luther. Translated by James Schaaf. 3 vols. Philadelphia and Minneapolis, 1985–1993.
Elert, Werner. The Structure of Lutheranism. Vol. 1, The Theology and Philosophy of Life of Lutheranism Especially in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Translated by Walter A. Hansen. St. Louis, 1962. Informative but filtered through a neo-Kantian framework.
Kittelson, James M. Luther the Reformer: The Story of the Man and His Career. Minneapolis, 1986.
——. Toward an Established Church: Strasbourg from 1500 to the Dawn of the Seventeenth Century. Veröffentlichungen des Instituts für Europäische Geschichte Mainz 182. Mainz, 2000.
Maurer, Wilhelm. Historical Commentary on the Augsburg Confession. Translated by H. G. Anderson. Philadelphia, 1986.
Nischan, Bodo. Princes, People and Confession: The Second Reformation in Brandenburg. Philadelphia, 1994.
James M. Kittelson
"Lutheranism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lutheranism-0
"Lutheranism." Europe, 1450 to 1789: Encyclopedia of the Early Modern World. . Retrieved February 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lutheranism-0
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LUTHERANISM in America traces its heritage to the Reformation of the sixteenth century in Germany and northern Europe, stressing justification by faith and the sacraments of Baptism and the Eucharist. While Lutherans may have resided in the Dutch settlements of New Netherland beginning in the mid-1620s, the first Lutheran-majority community was a Swedish colony established on the Delaware in 1638 and subsequently captured by the Dutch in 1655. During the eighteenth century, however, many German Lutherans settled in Pennsylvania and the southern colonies. In 1742, Henry M. Muhlenberg was sent from Germany and helped unite most Lutheran pastors in North America into the Ministerium of North America in 1748. At the close of the American Revolution, there were 120,000 Lutherans in 300 congregations throughout the new nation.
The Rise of the General Synod
In the new Lutheran world, English-speaking synods revealed a willingness to participate in mainstream Protestant culture, showing sympathy for the temperance and antislavery movements. Many German-speakers, by contrast, preferred Lutheran exclusivity and encouraged the establishment of German newspapers and schools. The
changing character of American Lutheranism was epitomized by Samuel Schmucker, who was instrumental in the founding of Gettysburg Seminary in 1826—a bastion of American Lutheranism in the nineteenth century. In 1834, Schmucker published his Elements of Popular Theology, which defended unity with all orthodox Christian bodies who held a common faith based on the "fundamental doctrines of Scripture," and extolled the Augsburg Confession as a model because it left certain theological questions open. After 1820, most Lutheran synods coalesced into the new General Synod, which was given authority to devise plans for seminaries, give missionary instruction, and provide aid to poor ministers and families. A network of orphanages, homes for the aged, and hospitals also began to appear in the Lutheran community, and several new colleges were founded.
The Challenge of Confessionalism
During the 1830s and 1840s, many Lutherans fled from Prussia, Saxony, Norway, and Sweden for a variety of political, religious, and economic reasons. Settling in the Midwest, they brought with them a theology of confessionalism, which stressed adherence to the historic confessions of the Lutheran tradition, most notably the Book of Concord (1580). The greater numbers of European Lutherans helped to cut off Lutheranism in the United States from other Protestant denominations. Most prominent of the new German synods was the Missouri Synod, formed in 1847, which took a confessional stance and opposed Americanization. Its vision was that of super-congregationalism, in which a synod had no authority over individual congregations. Other German and Scandinavian synods took less dogmatic stands, but inclined more to the theology of Missouri than that of the General Synod.
In the 1850s, a distinct theological division emerged between advocates of confessionalism and Neo-Lutherans who held to the Augsburg Confession only insofar as it conformed ostensibly to the Bible, rejecting unbiblical teachings such as original sin, private confession, baptismal regeneration, and the "real presence." Samuel Schmucker, the acknowledged leader of the Neo-Lutherans, was a vocal evangelical regarded with scorn by opponents of American Lutheranism. When he issued his Definite Synodical Program in 1855, which sought to rework the Augsburg Confession to conform to American values, it was rejected even by several eastern synods and American Lutheranism suffered a defeat from which it never recovered during the nineteenth century. Throughout the nineteenth century, moderates continued to search for an acceptable basis on which to unite the synods in the East and the Midwest. In 1867, they formed the General Council, which adopted the Akron Rule in 1872, reserving Lutheran pulpits for Lutheran pastors and Lutheran altars for Lutheran communicants. The issues of the Civil War provoked another division: five southern synods withdrew from the General Synod to form what in 1886 would become the United Synod, South. Advocates of confessionalism in the Midwest responded to the withdrawal of the southern synods by forming the Synodical Conference in 1872 to coordinate their activities.
Lutheranism in the Late Nineteenth Century
After the Civil War, German and Scandinavian immigration continued, with the high point being reached in 1882, but the motivations for this were now more economic than religious. Church growth occurred in the East as well as the Midwest, with the General Council's membership being one-third English, one-third German, and one-third Swedish. The Missouri Synod also made gains in the East, although most of their new members were migrants to the Midwest. Twenty-eight institutions of higher education were established between 1870 and 1910. Lutheran church life was influenced by the pietistic strain in Protestant America, but was unaffected by the Social Gospel. All its energy was devoted to home missions and evangelical outreach, for the focus of Lutheran interest was on personal not social ethics.
Renewed Doctrinal Controversy
Biblical criticism had only a slight impact on nineteenth-century Lutheranism. Instead, Lutherans focused on confessionalism and predestination. Divisions arose between those who favored inclusive confederation (the General Synod), confessional subscription (the General Council and the United Synod, South), and complete unity in doctrine and practice (the Synodical Conference). The General Synod acquired a new appreciation for its Lutheran heritage in the last quarter of the nineteenth century and committed itself to the Augsburg Confession, but nevertheless continued a good relationship with evangelical denominations and enacted no bar on altar or pulpit fellowship. Despite this, closer relations did develop between the General Synod, the General Council, and the United Synod, South, at the end of the century. During the 1870s, the Synodical Conference was itself divided over predestination (or the "election of grace"). The Lutheran doctrine of election applied only to salvation, not damnation, and was never a central aspect of the faith. Nevertheless, Friedrich A. Schmitt of the Norwegian Synod accused the Missouri Synod's president, C. F. W. Walther, of Calvinistic leanings. After acrimonious debate, several synods left the Synodical Conference with a consequent decline in funding for education and missionary work.
The First Steps Toward Lutheran Unity
Efforts to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in 1917 united Lutherans in the United States and led them to establish the Lutheran Bureau to provide ordinary Americans with information on the Lutheran heritage. The outbreak of war that year provided a further opportunity for Lutheranism to acquire national prominence. The entry of Lutherans into military service led to the creation of the National Lutheran Commission for Soldiers' and Sailors' Welfare, a trans-synodical body that established camps, recruited pastors, and raised $1.35 million. The National Lutheran Council (NLC) handled problems on the home front and aided reconstruction in Europe. Even the midwestern synods worked with the National Lutheran Council, though conflict did erupt over cooperation with other Protestant churches. The drive toward Lutheran unity was cemented by the creation of the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America (NLCA) in 1917, and the formation the following year of the United Lutheran Church in America (ULCA), which united most of the eastern-based synods into one body. Significantly, the ULCA was much more centralized than any of its predecessor synods, with much less congregational autonomy.
Depression and War
Lutheranism remained a conservative force in the 1920s and Lutherans remained rural-oriented, though there was a shift in mission work toward recovering unchurched Lutherans in the cities and the Northwest. After disputes within the National Lutheran Council, moderate midwestern synods formed the American Lutheran Conference, banning cooperation with other Protestants and restricting altars and pulpits, and in 1930 they merged into the American Lutheran Church. The Great Depression of 1929 dramatically reduced budgets and prompted calls for collective social responsibility. The Lutheran Home Missions Council of America was formed to transcend ethnic boundaries and allow for a degree of altar and pulpit fellowship, but most Lutheran churches in the mid– twentieth century remained committed to the confessional viewpoint. The outbreak of war in 1941 gave new life to the National Lutheran Council, which recruited chaplains, supported orphan missions, and ministered to armed forces personnel.
The Postwar World
During the 1950s, the Lutheran churches saw great growth, though Lutheran evangelism was based on a sacramental emphasis rather than revivalism, and Lutherans came closer together in ecumenical ventures. The ALC and ELC (formerly the NLCA) completed merger in 1960 to form The American Lutheran Church and the ULCA and the Augustana Synod united in 1962 to form the Lutheran Church in America (LCA). New types of ministry were initiated to address contemporary social problems, as theologians tried to enunciate a Lutheran doctrine that allowed for engagement in social justice without denying the action of grace in making a Christian. Throughout these mergers, however, the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod stood apart, insisting that doctrinal conformity was the prerequisite for Lutheran unity.
For Lutherans other than the Missouri Synod, merger became an end in itself and in 1987 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was formed from a merger of the American Lutheran Church and the Lutheran Church in America. In 2000 the ELCA endorsed a concordat with the Episcopal Church, U.S.A., allowing for a high degree of altar and pulpit fellowship. In 1999, membership in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stood at 5,149,668 members compared with 2,582,440 for the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod and 722,754 for the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Some smaller groups include the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations with 32,984, the American Association of Lutheran Churches with 18,252, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod with 16,734, the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with 15,012, and the Church of the Lutheran Brethren in America with 13,920.
Avery, William O. Empowered Laity: The Story of the Lutheran Laity Movement for Stewardship. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997.
Bachmann, E. Theodore, with Mercia B. Bachmann. The United Lutheran Church in America, 1918–1962. Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press, 1997.
Nelson, E. Clifford, ed. The Lutherans in North America. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980.
Nelson, E. Clifford, and Eugene L. Fevold. The Lutheran Church Among Norwegian-Americans: A History of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1960.
Todd, Mary. Authority Vested: A Story of Identity and Change in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Trexler, Edgar R. Anatomy of a Merger: People, Dynamics, and Decisions That Shaped the ELCA. Minneapolis, Minn.: Augsburg, 1991.
"Lutheranism." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/lutheranism
"Lutheranism." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved February 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/lutheranism
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Lutheranism, branch of Protestantism that arose as a result of the Reformation, whose religious faith is based on the principles of Martin Luther, although he opposed such a designation. When Luther realized that the reforms he desired could not be carried out within the Roman Catholic Church, he devoted himself to questions of faith rather than form in the new Evangelical churches that developed. His was the conservative attitude, as distinguished from the views of the Reformed (Calvinistic) communions.
Luther's major departures from Roman Catholic doctrine rest on these beliefs: the Scriptures contain the one necessary guide to truth, and it is the right of the individual to reach God through them with responsibility to God alone; salvation comes through faith alone, available to humanity through the redeeming work of Christ; and the sacraments are valid only as aids to faith. The principal statements of faith are found in Luther's two catechisms, the unaltered Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, the Schmalkald Articles, and the Formula of Concord. These are all included in the Book of Concord (1580). Baptism was necessary for spiritual regeneration, but no form was specified. The sacrament of the Lord's Supper was retained, but the doctrine of transubstantiation was rejected.
As to the manner of worship, Luther chose to retain altars and vestments; he prepared an order of liturgical service, but with the understanding that no church was bound to follow any set order. There is today no uniform liturgy belonging to all branches of the Lutheran body; characteristically, however, an important place is given to preaching and congregational singing.
Because of Luther's conservatism and the political conditions of 16th-century Germany, the Lutheran churches originated as territorial churches, subject to the local princes. The local organization still has the most important place in church polity, but there is a growing tendency toward a more organized church.
Lutheranism has traditionally stressed education, and there are many Lutheran schools, colleges, and seminaries throughout the world. Since the mid-18th cent., Lutherans have had a program of Christian service for women called the Deaconess movement. The world membership of Lutherans is nearly 74 million.
The history of Lutheranism in Europe is generally divided into several distinct periods. The first period, from 1520 to 1580, was one of doctrinal consolidation. Doctrinal disputes, especially that concerning antinomianism, began during Luther's lifetime, but became more heated after his death, when the controversy raised by Andreas Osiander over the meaning of Christ's death on the cross shook the whole German Evangelical Church. The opposing factions were the strict Lutherans, who refused any compromise with Rome or Calvinism, and the moderate wing, headed by Philip Melanchthon, who strove for reconciliation.
The period from 1580 to 1700 was called "the age of orthodoxy." Almost exclusive emphasis was put on right doctrine, and faith was understood as intellectual assent. During the early years of the 17th cent., Germany was racked by the Thirty Years War, and Lutheranism lost much of its territory. Religious boundaries were stabilized by the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which maintained that with slight exceptions the religion of the prince was to be the religion of his subjects. The latter part of the century saw a reaction against the prevailing orthodoxy in the form of Pietism.
In 1817, Frederick William III of Prussia sought to merge forcibly the Lutheran and Reformed churches of Prussia into a single organization called the Prussian Union. Some conservative Lutherans opposed this move and withdrew from the union to found the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Prussia as a free church. After World War I, the churches were no longer governed by state laws but still received state support.
In the unification of German culture under the Nazi regime, the church did not escape. In 1933 a national organization, the German Evangelical Church, was formed. Under the direction of the Nazi party it tried to develop a national racial church, with pure Aryan blood as a prerequisite for membership. A revolt against this movement, led by Martin Niemoeller, resulted in the founding of the Confessing Church and the formation of the Confessional Synod, which issued (1934) its declaration rejecting the Reich's interference with the church.
The end of the war saw the formation of the Evangelical Church in Germany (EKID), which is made up of members of both Lutheran and Reformed churches, and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany (VELKD), which functions as an expressly Lutheran constituency within the EKID. German churches have also cooperated wholeheartedly in the formation of the Lutheran World Federation (1947) and the World Council of Churches. The Lutheran Church is the established state church of Denmark, Iceland, Norway, and Finland; Sweden disestablished its Lutheran state church in 2000.
In North America
In North America, Lutherans from the Netherlands were among the settlers on Manhattan island in 1625. A congregation was formed there in 1648, but it was antedated by one established (1638) by Swedish settlers at Fort Christina (Wilmington) on the Delaware River. On nearby Tinicum Island the first Lutheran church building in the country was dedicated in 1646. Early in the 18th cent. exiles from the Palatinate established German Lutheran churches in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. The Salzburger migration to Georgia (1734) introduced Lutheranism in the South.
In the 18th cent., organization of the churches was begun by Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg, who brought about the formation (1748) in Pennsylvania of the first synod in the country. The Synod of New York and adjoining states followed (1786); that of North Carolina was created in 1803. With the settlement of the Midwest, the West, and the Northwest, many small synods were formed by Norwegians, Danes, Finns, and other national groups.
Once there were about 150 distinct Lutheran bodies, but in 1918 many of the autonomous Lutheran bodies merged into the United Lutheran Church of America. The Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America, formed in 1872, broke up in 1960, when the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (with almost 400,000 members, now the third largest Lutheran group in the United States) withdrew. The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod, with some 2.5 million members, was also formerly part of the Evangelical Lutheran Synodical Conference of North America. It is now the second largest group of Lutherans. The American Lutheran Church, formed in 1961, and the Lutheran Church in America, formed in 1962, united to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988, now the largest Lutheran group, with nearly 4.8 million members. These groups comprise about 95% of North American Lutherans. In an ecumenical spirit, the Evangelical Lutheran's Churchwide Assembly agreed (1997) on a full communion with the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America, and it reached a similar agreement with the Episcopal Church and the Moravian Church in 1999.
See A. R. Wentz, The Lutheran Church in American History (2d ed. rev. 1933); L. P. Qualben, The Lutheran Church in Colonial America (1940); E. Vermeil et al., The Churches in Germany (1949); J. Pelikan, From Luther to Kierkegaard (1950, repr. 1963); A. K. Swihart, Luther and the Lutheran Church (1960); J. H. Bodensieck, ed., The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church (3 vol., 1965); E. C. Nelson, Lutheranism in North America (rev. ed. 1980); E. W. Gritsch, Fortress Introduction to Lutheranism (1993).
"Lutheranism." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lutheranism
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Lutheranism's greatest success was in north Germany and in Scandinavia. In England, his reputation was marred by a sharp theological exchange with Henry VIII, to whose Defence of the Seven Sacraments (1521), which had won from the papacy the title ‘Defender of the Faith’ for the king, Luther replied with Against Henry King of England (1522). The sequel was unfortunate for Luther. He was persuaded in 1525 to offer a humble apology for the ‘hasty and speedy’ printing of his book: Henry's retort was contempt for the man and his views, which were ‘abominable and odious.’ Many English churchmen thought it wise to distance themselves from Luther and to insist that the English Reformation, though having much in common with the German, was autonomous and independent. After Luther's death, the influence of Calvin and Geneva on the English clergy, and certainly on the Scottish, was much greater than that of lutheranism.
J. A. Cannon
"lutheranism." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lutheranism
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LUTHERANISM . Martin Luther's Roman Catholic opponents were the first to label the sixteenth-century reform movements "Lutheran." His supporters first called themselves "evangelical" (from the Greek euaggelion, "gospel") and then, after 1530, "the churches of the Augsburg Confession."
Teaching and Worship
Lutheran teachings, which have remained determinative for Lutheranism until today, are preserved in the Book of Concord of 1580. By prefacing this collection of teachings with the three ecumenical creeds (Nicene, Apostles', and Athanasian), Lutherans demonstrate their basic agreement with the ancient trinitarian tradition. The collection includes Luther's Large and Small Catechisms of 1529, his Smalcald Articles of 1537, Philipp Melanchthon's Augsburg Confession of 1530 and its Apology of 1531, and the Formula of Concord, drafted in 1577 by a group of Lutheran church leaders to resolve intra-Lutheran controversies in Germany.
Luther's doctrine of "justification through grace by faith alone, apart from works of law," echoing Paul in his letter to the Romans (3:28), forms the core of Lutheranism. A person is right with God (i.e., "justified") by completely trusting the work of Christ (i.e., "by faith") and not by making any human effort to appease God (i.e., "apart from works of law"). Christ's atonement is communicated both verbally, in preaching and teaching, and visibly, in the celebration of the sacraments. Thus to Luther the doctrine of justification was not one among many doctrines, as medieval theology taught, but was the "chief article of faith" that establishes the norm for Christian faith and life. Consequently the word of God must be seen in its careful distinction between "law" and "gospel." The law, be it divine (especially the First Commandment of the Decalogue) or human (as manifested in the rule of temporal princes), creates necessary order in the face of evil and reveals the human inability to appease God. Through Christ, the gospel, which is communicated in words and sacraments, reveals God's unconditional love for all creatures. Trusting in Christ rather than in one's own efforts restores one's relationship with God. God may indeed reward good and punish evil, but believers no longer need worry about God's justice. Instead, they are free to enjoy God's mercy and thus help the "neighbor" in need. So viewed, all of life is a thanksgiving for what God did in Christ.
In worship, Lutherans have tried to be faithful to the ecumenical tradition of the Mass by regarding its center, the sacrament of Holy Communion, as the means of grace that strengthens and sustains Christians in a world of sin, death, and evil. Luther changed little in the liturgy of the Roman Mass, removing only what he called the "sacrifice of the Mass," namely, the prayers of thanksgiving that surround the act of consecrating bread and wine. He found these prayers too self-righteous, too full of words intended to appease God, rather than offering joyful thanks for what God did in Christ.
Following Luther's careful liturgical reforms in Wittenberg, Lutherans have insisted on the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, introduced congregational singing, and stressed preaching. Worship is thus the basic response to baptism, which discloses God's unconditional promise to be forever with those who trust God in Christ. Lutherans retained the practice of baptizing infants not only because it had been the custom from the beginning of Christianity but also because infant baptism demonstrates that God's grace is not conditioned by human response.
Lutherans recognize only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper, because Luther could find no clear evidence that Christ instituted any other sacraments. Baptism commissions all believers to a common ministry, but for the sake of enduring witness and good order in the church, there is a divinely instituted, special, ordained ministry. Lutherans have not always agreed on the precise differences between the ministry of all the baptized (the "common priesthood of all believers") and the ministry of the ordained, but they have nevertheless rejected any notion of a divinely instituted structure of hierarchical priesthood. An ordained Lutheran pastor is a baptized Christian who is called to the public ministry of word and sacraments after proper training and examination, and the rite of ordination is the solemn commissioning to be faithful to this call.
The core of Luther's reform movement was the proposal that the church return to the Christocentric stance that he had found in scripture and in the early church fathers. His fundamental insights were neither well understood nor satisfactorily evaluated either by Catholics or by many Lutherans. Nontheological factors seemed to help the spread of Lutheranism more than theological factors.
The doctrine of baptism proved to be the most revolutionary aspect of Lutheranism, since it allowed Luther to invite territorial princes to become "emergency bishops" of the new churches. Thus German princes interested in liberating themselves from the domination of Rome established Lutheranism in their own territories and encouraged it to spread, especially to the east. Princes, peasants, patricians, priests, and even bishops joined the Lutheran cause, mainly to break from Rome. Danish and Swedish kings declared Lutheranism the religion of their lands between 1527 and 1593. However, when, in 1525, peasants in Saxony rebelled against their landlords in the name of Luther's call to Christian freedom, Luther sided with the princes, who crushed the rebellion by force; he refused to see his cause identified with liberation from the yoke of feudalism.
The pope and the emperor were forced to soften their implacable opposition to Lutheranism because they needed the support of German princes to meet the threat of Turkish invasion from the south. At the request of Emperor Charles V, the Lutherans submitted a confession of their faith to the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. The signers of the Augsburg Confession included seven princes and two city magistrates, clearly demonstrating the strong political support Lutheranism had achieved. But subsequent negotiations between Lutheran and Catholic theologians failed to produce sufficient agreement to cease hostilities. The Council of Trent (1545–1563) was finally convened a year before Luther's death in 1546, but Lutherans were not invited to attend. In 1547, German Lutherans and Catholics faced each other in military battles; the war ended within a year with the defeat of the Lutheran Smalcald League. But Emperor Charles V was willing to compromise, and the resulting 1555 Peace of Augsburg tolerated "the religion of the Augsburg Confession," although it took almost a century and the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648) before the Peace of Westphalia accepted Lutheranism as a legitimate religion in the empire.
The Formula of Concord used medieval scholastic terminology and Aristotelian philosophical categories to provide a theological system to protect Lutheranism from both Catholic and Calvinist influences and to resolve the dispute between followers of Melanchthon, known as Philippists, and Gnesio-Lutherans (from the Greek gnesios, "authentic"). The result was a systematic, rational interpretation of the doctrines of sin, law, and grace, the cornerstones of a Lutheran theology grounded in the forensic notion that God declared humankind righteous by faith in Christ. The formula rejected both the Catholic notion of cooperation between human nature and divine grace through free will and Calvin's doctrine of Christ's spiritual (not real or bodily) presence in the Lord's Supper. The formula also insisted that all teachings must be subject to the authority of the prophetic and apostolic writings of scripture, thus opening the door to a biblicism that has at times produced a biblical fundamentalism.
Between 1580 and 1680, German Lutherans favored a uniform religion that fused pure doctrine with Christian laws. The resulting alliance between church and state created seventeenth-century Lutheran orthodoxy. Assisted by orthodox theologians, territorial princes dictated what people should believe and how they should behave, and obedience to political authority became the core of Christian ethics. But Lutheran orthodoxy gave rise to a new reform movement, nicknamed "pietist," which stressed a "religion of the heart" rather than the prevalent "religion of the head." Led by Philipp Jakob Spener, August Hermann Francke, and Nikolaus Zinzendorf, Lutheran Pietism emphasized individual conversion, lay ministry, and a morality distinct from worldly ethics. By the nineteenth century, the pietist impulse had created an "inner mission" movement in Germany that established a female diaconate, built hospitals and orphanages, instituted educational programs, cared for the mentally retarded, and advocated prison reform. The University of Halle trained missionaries for foreign missions, particularly for India and the United States. But social and ecumenical concerns were frequently overshadowed by a narrow-minded moralism. Thus both Lutheran orthodoxy and Lutheran Pietism tended to pervert the original purpose of Lutheranism: to be a reform movement within the church catholic. Both orthodox rationalism and pietist moralism had lost sight of the original Lutheran, ecumenical, holistic vision.
During the eighteenth-century Enlightenment, Lutheranism again succumbed to rationalist and secularist tendencies. Frederick II of Prussia (r. 1740–1786), for example, initiated an attitude of toleration that valued religion only as it served the general purposes of the state. Lutheran theologians like Johann Semler (1725–1791) considered the doctrine of justification nonessential and supported the general notion of Lutheranism as a moral teaching. In Germany and Scandinavia, however, some Lutheran theological faculties and church leaders reacted against this trend by nurturing a strong historical consciousness and intensive biblical studies, which led to frequent attempts to revive the spirit of Luther and the Lutheran confessions. These "Neo-Lutherans" called for a return to strong biblical and confessional norms to counteract the prevalent cultural Protestantism that had virtually eliminated Lutheranism's distinctive character. By 1817, three hundred years after Luther's posting of the Ninety-five Theses, Neo-Lutherans had produced a significant revival of old Lutheran norms and ideas. German Lutherans founded the Common Lutheran Conference in Prussia in 1868 to provide communication between the various territorial churches. Danish churchman Nikolai F. S. Grundtvig (1783–1872) promoted an ecumenical Lutheranism based on the apostolic tradition and on the creeds; he also revived liturgy and church music.
In the United States, Henry Melchior Mühlenberg (1711–1787), who had come from Halle to Philadelphia, organized the first American Lutheran synod in Pennsylvania in 1748. Synods were organized by regions and were headed by presidents; they met regularly in convention to decide matters of church polity and faith. Lutheran theological seminaries, colleges, and journals were soon founded in regions where Lutherans predominated. Samuel S. Schmucker (1799–1873), president of the oldest Lutheran seminary in the United States (founded in Gettysburg in 1826), envisaged an "American Lutheranism" that would be the leading force to unite all the major Protestant denominations. But he did not receive sufficient support to realize his vision. The country was too vast, and Lutherans were too estranged from one another, especially by ethnic background, to make Lutheran unity a realistic goal. The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, consisting of German Lutherans who were disenchanted with Lutheran attempts in Prussia to form a union with the Reformed church, was organized in 1847. Soon there were German, Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and Finnish groups who cherished their own ethnic traditions more than unity with one another. During the Civil War, the United Lutheran Synod of the South was formed in response to political and cultural pressures. It was not until after World War I that Lutherans in the United States managed to form larger denominations through mergers.
The Nazi tyranny in Germany (1933–1945) strongly affected German Lutherans. A small minority of Lutheran pastors and congregations resisted Hitler, but the great majority of Lutherans either remained silent or actively cooperated with the Nazi regime. The resistance, which called itself the "Confessing church,"was opposed by those who called themselves the "German Christians," who were in basic agreement with the government's desire to link Lutheranism with Nazism. Danish and Norwegian Lutherans refused to cooperate with the German occupation forces, which did not react with persecution. All these groups looked to the Lutheran confessional documents for support of their positions.
After World War II, some 184 delegates representing about 80 million Lutherans from 49 churches in 22 countries organized the Lutheran World Federation in 1947. Headquartered in Geneva (which is also the headquarters of the World Council of Churches) the Lutheran World Federation unites Lutheran churches from around the world in common social-action projects and in regular world assemblies but otherwise has no authority over the churches. The trend toward Lutheran unity also continued in the United States. The Lutheran Council in the United States was established in 1967 to facilitate communication and common action among the larger Lutheran denominations and to represent them at the Lutheran World Federation.
Since the 1960s, there have been ongoing official dialogues between Lutherans and other Christian churches. In 1982 the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church were able to agree with the Episcopal Church in the United States on an "interim sharing of the eucharist," hoping for total reconciliation between Lutherans and Anglicans in the future. In view of their beginnings, Lutherans have considered their relations with Roman Catholics particularly important. Official Lutheran-Catholic dialogues began in the 1960s and have taken place without interruption in the United States since 1965. There has always been a creative tension between Lutheranism as a movement and the Lutheran denominations. If Lutherans are guided by their confessional convictions, they will remain in this tension.
The most comprehensive treatment of Lutheranism, albeit from an American perspective, is offered in E. Clifford Nelson's The Rise of World Lutheranism: An American Perspective (Philadelphia, 1982). The same author also has written a readable history, Lutheranism in North America, 1914 –1970 (Minneapolis, 1972). In addition, there is a useful historical survey, stressing European and American Lutheranism, by Conrad Bergendoff, The Church of the Lutheran Reformation (Saint Louis, 1967). Normative Lutheran teachings, "the Lutheran confessions," are made available in translation in The Book of Concord, edited and translated by Theodore G. Tappert (Philadelphia, 1959). The historical roots and theological significance of the Lutheran confessions are described and analyzed by me and Robert W. Jenson in Lutheranism: The Theological Movement and Its Confessional Writings (Philadelphia, 1976). The distinctive features of Lutheranism, especially compared with other traditions in the United States, are sketched in Arthur C. Piepkorn's "Lutheran Churches," in volume 2 of Profiles of Belief (San Francisco, 1978). The theological center of Lutheranism has been explored, with an eye on ecumenical implications, in Wilhelm Dantine's The Justification of the Ungodly, translated by me and Ruth C. Gritsch (Saint Louis, 1968), and in Gerhard O. Forde's Justification by Faith: A Matter of Death and Life (Philadelphia, 1982). Detailed information on Lutheran worship is contained in Luther D. Reed's The Lutheran Liturgy (Philadelphia, 1947). Basic information on Lutheranism can be quickly obtained in The Encyclopedia of the Lutheran Church, 3 vols., edited by Julius Bodensieck (Minneapolis, 1965).
Gassmann, Gunther, Duane H. Larson, and Mark W. Oldenburg. Historical Dictionary of Lutheranism. Lanham, Md., 2001.
Gritsch, Eric W. A History of Lutheranism. Minneapolis, 2002.
Mead, Frank Spencer, and Samuel S. Hill. Rev. by Craig D. Atwood. "Lutheran." In Handbook of Denominations in the United States. 11th ed. Nashville, 2001.
Truscott, Jeffrey A. The Reform of Baptism and Confirmation in American Lutheranism. Lanham, Md., 2003.
Eric W. Gritsch (1987)
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The term, Lutheranism, can mean either the churches that emerge from the reform movement that Martin Luther founded, or the theological doctrines that these churches profess and from which their life and particular forms of piety take their origin. This article will (1)
sketch historically the profile of Lutheran church life, including theological development, to the present time; and (2) summarize the fundamental doctrines of Lutheranism as derived from documents recognized as normative by the Lutheran churches themselves.
For information on Lutheran churches in North America, see lutheran churches in north america; evangelical lutheran church in america.
History of Lutheran Institutions and Church Life
Lutheranism came into being in Europe between 1520 and 1570. At the end of this period two-thirds of the people living in what today is modern Germany called themselves Lutherans, and the movement had taken root in several other countries on the Continent.
Germany. The conquest of Germany for Lutheranism was guaranteed by the Peace of augsburg (1555) after much political and religious strife. The various princes were empowered to establish either the Catholic or Lutheran religion within their respective realms. Under the stress of rapid change, Martin Luther and his supporters formed a church polity that made it easy for Lutheran princes to set up state churches where Lutheranism was preached and they themselves remained in control of affairs.
Scandinavia. Outside Germany the most radical and successful dominion of Lutheranism came about in Scandinavia. In Denmark the movement was first supported by Frederick of Holstein (1523–33), who allowed the preaching of Lutheranism in 1527. Two years later it became by royal decree the sole religion of the land; Catholic doctrine and worship were banned. Christian III (1533–59), his successor, seized Church properties and replaced the seven bishops of his state with "superintendents," becoming himself the summus episcopus. A church disciplinary code was constructed by Johann bugenhagen in 1537 and promulgated by force throughout the state, which included Norway and Iceland. In Sweden the transformation of the state into a Lutheran religious body was accomplished through the cooperation of a preacher, Olaus petri, who had studied in Wittenberg (1516–18), and a politician, Gustavus Eriksson Vasa, who obtained Sweden's political independence from Denmark in 1523 and founded a dynasty, ruling as king from 1523 to 1560. He used Petri, then preaching in Stockholm, to effect the gradual transformation of the religious life of the people, with the intention of making his own power absolute. In 1527 the Diet of Väterås voted to break with Rome. In the new independent church the title of bishop and the apostolic succession were retained, but the king became its head, with the Lutheran archbishop of Uppsala his first lieutenant. Olaus published the first Swedish service book, Een Handbock pää Swensko, in 1529; the Catholic religion was banned from Sweden in 1544. Vasa was able to accomplish a similar change in Finland with the help of Michael Agricola and Peter Särkilathi.
Other Countries. The support of Polish nobles, whose sons had studied in Wittenberg, helped Lutheranism make inroads there. The reform of the Teutonic Knights according to a Lutheran pattern in 1525, under the aegis of its grand master, albrecht of brandenburg-ansbach, opened the way to the imposition of Lutheran doctrine and practice along the Baltic. In Bohemia, students who had imbibed the spirit of the Lutheran Reformation, were welcomed by the calixtin descendants of John Hus and Bohemian Brethren. In Hungary, Matthew D. Biro, friend of Philipp melanchthon, promoted Lutheranism among the Magyars until a visit to Switzerland in 1543 inclined him to Calvinism. Italy and the Iberian Peninsula were practically untouched by any form of the Reformation, while the rest of the Continent, especially Switzerland, parts of France, and the Low Countries, came under the almost exclusive sway of Calvinism (see reformed churches).
Doctrinal Controversy. During this period of expansion, the doctrinal basis of Lutheran life and belief was being melted down in the crucible of controversy. Its crystallization in the Formula of concord (1577) was achieved after a series of adjustments and disputes that had lasted for almost a half-century from the date of Luther's break with Rome. The antitheses were several, for it was not merely a question of opposing Catholicism, but of finding agreement with non-Lutheran movements of reform, as well as doctrinal unanimity among Lutherans themselves.
As regards the anabaptists, who were the radicals or enthusiasts among the Reformers, no real controversy arose, for it was clear to those in the mainstream of the Lutheran movement that these were extremist groups. With the Calvinists it was otherwise. Though their orientation was basically the same as that of the Lutherans, disagreement arose particularly over the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Martin bucer, the leader of the Reformation at Strasbourg, who was subject to both Lutheran and Calvinist currents, acted as mediator in effecting the Wittenberg Concord (1536). Stauncher Lutherans
opposed the agreement, and their suspicions were voiced in accusations leveled against such advocates of conciliation as Melanchthon. These they branded as Crypto-Calvinists.
Before the death of Luther, controversy had divided his disciples. Most notable of the debates was concerned with the relationship between the law and the gospel. Johann Agricola (J. Schnitter), the first champion of Antinomianism, rejected the Decalogue as unworthy of Christians and stated that faith sets the Christian free of law. Luther, himself, responded that the Commandments are altogether necessary, since the Church includes some not yet reborn, and since those who have experienced rebirth are still sinners. In Der Grosse Catechismus (1529) he included a long commentary on the Decalogue.
Resistance to Compromise. The most serious and bitter disputes arose after the death of Luther (1546). They involved two parties: the rigid conservatives led by Nikolaus von amsdorf and Matthias flacius illyricus; and the Philippists, who, as disciples of Melanchthon, urged doctrinal compromise and adaptation. The extent, though not the depth, of the disagreements appears in the Formula of Concord, where they were ostensibly resolved. Its structure shows that the contentions concerned mostly soteriological problems, which were the main concern of the Reformers. The articles of the epitome of the Formula treat of original sin, free will, righteousness before God through faith, good works, the law, and the gospel, as well as the Eucharist and questions concerning the Person and the work of Christ.
According to a temporal sequence, the first of the important differences involved the adiaphora. In the two Interims of the year 1548, the Lutherans were called upon to make certain doctrinal and ceremonial compromises in lieu of a final resolution of the problems by an ecumenical council. Melanchthon supported these proposals with the notion that there are certain factors in the Catholic religion that are, at very least, innocuous. As regards the Sacraments, he and other conciliatory theologians held that the rites of confirmation and the anointing of the sick are permissible. They showed similar tolerance for the veneration of the saints and other liturgical ceremonies and customs. The conservatives, proclaiming themselves Gnesio-Lutherans (of a pure and genuine strain), gnesiolutheranism, rejected Melanchthon's adiaphorism as well as his doctrine of synergism, which stated that man could exercise his innate power to accept or reject the prevenient grace of God. This position was attacked by members of the rigid party, who, appealing vigorously to the authority of the young Luther, stressed the radical corruption of man's nature, which made it necessary for him to receive a new will before he is even capable of accepting grace.
Connected with this basic disagreement in Lutheran doctrine of subjective redemption was the Osiandric controversy. Named after Andreas osiander, it touched the notion of justification itself; is it merely forensic acquittal of man, the sinner; or is it an actual infusion of righteousness? Osiander taught that the sinner is made just by an infusion of the divine nature of Christ. The place of good works in the process of justification brought on the "Majoristic" controversy. Georg major, a disciple of Melanchthon and professor at Wittenberg, taught that good works following justification are necessary for salvation. Amsdorf countered that good works are, on the contrary, dangerous to salvation. Even Melanchthon considered Major's position extreme and preferred to state simply that good works are necessary.
Search for Orthodoxy. In the meantime, the confessional literature of the Lutherans had grown extensively. To the Confession of augsburg and the Apology thereof (written by Melanchthon, with the approval of Luther) were added the Articles of Schmalkald, Melanchthon's treatise on the power of the papacy, and the two catechisms of Luther. None of these documents had been canonically approved, however; and little by little the leaders of the Lutheran Reformation felt the need for a document, especially since the Lutheran theologians were divided into two camps, those of the University of Jena (the self-styled Gnesio-Lutherans) and those of the University of Wittenberg. The Formula of Concord is, then, the result of the attempt to mediate and unite Lutherans. Its redaction was due in great part to theologians of the Gnesio-Lutheran type, although not of the extreme right: Jakob Andreä (1520–90), Martin chemnitz, Nikolaus Selnecker (1530–92), and David chytraeus. Paradoxically, although Lutheran orthodoxy had been present in embryo during this formative period, the Formula made it possible for it to develop systematically.
The orthodox theologians aimed at systematizing the established teaching of the confessional writings. The existence of a certain canonized consensus was a prerequisite to such an endeavor. Lutheran orthodoxy, therefore, was born from the apparent resolution of the controversies that took place in the second generation of Lutheranism. Agreement on the Formula of Concord in 1580 effected both a cohesion of the parties previously at odds with each other and a concern for accurate expression of doctrine. The vehicles of this accuracy were biblical proofs and an elaboration of their meaning according to Aristotelian categories. Another factor in the emergence of orthodoxy was the continuing and ever sharper polemic against the Church of Rome and various Protestant groups. The authority of Luther was at high tide; and the paradox of orthodoxy itself consists in its virtual equation of his dicta with those of the Bible. The representatives of this school were not so much interested in him as a person, as in a witness of true doctrine.
The orthodoxy in embryo that was represented by Flacius Illyricus found its full emergence in the works of Johann gerhard. His Loci theologici (9 v. compl. in 1622) is the best specimen of what Lutheran orthodoxy says. It is more than a body of doctrinal writings, and must be understood from its motives. The orthodox theologians were certainly intent on defending the honor of Luther and the truth of his teaching. The rigidity of this defense, however, can only be explained by the fact that the system gradually began to be considered as inviolable. This development eventually jeopardized both the apology for the validity of Luther's vocation to reform the Church and the claims for absolute parity of doctrine. The rigidity soon produced a protest in the form of Lutheran Pietism.
Even during the age of the orthodox ascendancy, the humanist tradition was present in the bosom of Lutheranism, for example, in the person of Georg calixtus, who insisted on the consensus quinquesaecularis, the agreement of the Church during the first five centuries on certain fundamental articles of faith. Thus, he evoked the notion of tradition and brought down upon himself from orthodox quarters the accusation of syncretism. The ecumenical labor of Calixtus was stillborn, but it helped maintain a certain awareness within the Lutheran community that the Reformation and its continuation was for the sake of the Church.
Pietism. pietism was in great measure a reaction against what seemed to be the unrealistic speculation of orthodox theology, and also against the formalistic church life that followed from it. The need for more vitality was felt, especially at the end of the devastating Thirty Years' War (1618–48). On the other hand, Pietism was also a continuing expression of the humanist strain in German Lutheranism. Veit von Seckendorf (1626–92) and Gottfried W. leibniz did not belong to any Pietist school, but their lives exhibit an openness that does not accord with the spirit of orthodoxy.
Most representative of the Pietists is Philipp Jakob spener. For 20 years (1666–86), he served as pastor for a congregation in Frankfurt am Main; and it was there that the movement came alive. Spener organized small Bible study-circles (ecclesiolae ), the work of which was almost exclusively ethically oriented. The Scriptures were treated not as the sources of proof-texts for speculative theological conclusions, but as the immediate font of spiritual enlightenment and strength—experience. The name, Pietist, was first given to these groups in derision. Spener later went to Berlin and spent the last ten years of his life at the recently founded University of Halle (1694), which thus became the center of Pietism. To Halle also came August H. francke, who at Leipzig had organized groups similar to the ones Spener had founded in Frankfurt. The separatism his disciples manifested toward other Lutherans at Leipzig brought friction and eventually caused him to leave. Halle, thus, became to Pietism what Wittenberg had been to the early Reformation.
Lutheran Pietism was never a tightly organized movement; therefore, it took various forms according to the milieu in which it developed. For example, whereas in Halle the Pietists tended to be rigoristic and ecclesiologically separatist, in Würtemberg they were more attached to the Lutheran Church and to deeper theological reflection. Elsewhere, eccentric groups such as the Herrnhuter of Nikolaus L. zinzendorf (see moravian church) emerged from the movement, as did also sectarian assemblies such as the Engelbrüder.
Personal Experiences of Salvation. Pietism was more than a reaction against orthodox rigidity. As with the other manifestations of Lutheranism it accented one of the other principles emphasized by the Reformers. In this case, stress was on the personal experience of salvation. The pessimism concerning human nature that characterized earlier Lutheran thought was softened, and the priority of experience over speculation of any kind was affirmed. At the same time the Pietists departed slightly from a tightly formulated scriptural principle in the direction of the independence of the individual in making his religious judgments and decisions. By this avenue a species of pure subjectivism made its appearance, and, even though the Pietists did give the Bible to the people, by their disregard for dogma they smoothed the way for the Aufklärung.
The Enlightenment. What Pietism conceived, the Aufklärung brought forth. During this 18th-century period, Lutheranism was besieged by rationalism and was thereby transformed. The object of belief became of less and less moment, for the criterion of religiosity according to the rationalists was conscientiousness. The Lutherans of the Aufklärung still revered Martin Luther as their patriarch; not as the expounder of the biblical doctrine of justification by faith, however, but as the patron saint of the principle of the absolute independence of the individual in religious matters. Thus appeared the cleavage within Lutheranism itself, that is implicit in the simultaneous proclamation of biblical doctrine and affirmation of the principle of undetermined independence in its interpretation.
The leaders of the Aufklärung did not abandon the Bible; they put it to the test of the kind of criticism that dominated the next century. Johann S. Semler laid the foundation for this new approach to the Scriptures. At the same time Gotthold E. lessing led the attack against orthodoxy with his notion of a formal Lutheranism, which consisted in the exercise of the right of every man to absolute religious freedom, after the example of Luther. These orientations met the whole-hearted approval of political leaders, including Frederick the Great.
Neo-Lutheranism. The first reaction to rationalism was heralded at the very apex of the Aufklärung in the life and work of Johann G. herder and Johann G. hamann. The "back to Luther" movement that they represented was a revival of the doctrine of justification by faith. These neo-Lutherans, who appeared when the spirit of romanticism was flourishing, appealed to the fundamental beliefs of the Reformation and made them meaningful by providing access to the Bible, as the source of preaching and teaching, without unwarranted concessions to the rationalism of that era.
Liberalism. As a result of the rationalist revolution, however, the spirit of the Aufklärung was translated into the liberal theology of the 19th century, represented by Ernst troeltsch and Adolf von harnack, and thence into the 20th under the leadership of such theologians as Rudolf bultmann. At the same time a more conservative line was held by other churchmen and deepened theologically by a more critical view of Reformation sources, e.g., the work of Edmund Schlink.
Thus, the general pattern of the history of Lutheranism has been affected radically by the interaction of two opposing forces that were present from the beginning: Martin Luther's emphasis on religious experience and Flacius Illyricus's penchant for rational systematization of doctrine. Subsequently the former emphasis, always as a reaction against overrationalization, has appeared in Pietism, romanticism, and the more contemporary forms of Lutheran existentialism. The rationalizing tendency has been mostly a reaction against excessive confidence in experience. The Pietists, for example, unwittingly and certainly unintentionally permitted rationalism itself to play a role in the history of Lutheranism; just as romanticism ceded to the more modern attempts to control religion rationally.
Ecumenism. The political upheaval, especially in Europe, after 1850, plus a half-century of ecumenism have continued to modify the status of Lutheranism as an institution. Politics has had its greatest effect in Germany, where the Lutheran churches are no longer state churches. In other countries too, there is evidence of a reconsideration of the relevance of establishment.
The drama of the rise and fall of the Third Reich is a conspicuous factor in the growth of the ecumenical trend among Lutherans. The first effect was the split of German Lutherans into several groups, on the basis of their varied view of the political regime. Common persecution, however, produced a unifying force, especially in the Una Sancta movement, which in postwar years has made Germany a lively center of ecumenical activity. Lutherans of such various tendencies as Otto Dibelius, Martin Niemöller, Hanns Lilje, and Franklin C. Fry played important roles in the formation of the world council of churches. In the dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church, of special significance is a postwar group of Lutheran theologians who have advocated corporate reunion with the Church of Rome. This "League for Evangelical-Catholic Reunion" has no official status within Lutheranism. Its principles have been stated and are currently being developed in the writings of Max Lackmann, Hans Asmussen, and Richard Baumann.
Another effect of ecumenism within Lutheranism was the formation of the Lutheran World Federation (Der Lutherische Weltbund) in 1947. A free association of Lutheran churches, it is bound together by the traditional Lutheran confessional writings. Under its auspices a center of interconfessional research is maintained in Strasbourg.
Fundamental Doctrine of Lutheranism
Historians and theologians alike are accustomed to presenting the Reformation as grounded in a material and a formal principle. The former is the doctrine of justification by faith (sola fide ); the latter is Scripture, which certifies this doctrine (sola Scriptura ). They further assign one of the principles to each of the two leaders of the Reformation: Martin Luther as the champion of the sola fide, while John Calvin is responsible for the strong scriptural emphasis.
If this simple presupposition were adequate, then a sufficient knowledge of Lutheranism could be found in an analysis of what Luther and his immediate disciples understood by "justifying faith," together with an account of subsequent variations in its understanding. The reality is otherwise, however; for, despite the obvious differences in the orientation of Luther and Calvin, the Reformation represents a certain unity in which several confessions have become interpenetrated. Hence Lutheran doctrine—as the articulation of the particular Lutheran experience—takes in much more than a statement of Martin Luther's insight concerning justification. Nor can it be sealed off from the so-called Calvinist scriptural principle, even though, admittedly, the Lutheran interpretation of this principle appears to be (at least implicitly) more radical than that of either Calvin himself or the majority of his adherents.
On the condition that these cautions are observed, however, it is not impossible to apply the twofold principle to Lutheran doctrine itself. Comprising the material element are such things as justification by faith and the church as the "assembly of believers." Each of these factors is complex. The Lutheran concept of justification presupposes a particular understanding of the condition of the human will (servum arbitrium ) before the advent of justifying faith. It also includes a comprehension of the relationship between law and gospel as well as the distinctive grasp of the meaning of faith. Likewise, Lutheran doctrine on the church is a complexus of convictions having to do both with factors constitutive of the church and with mutual relationships of the church with other societies. On the one hand, the formal element is the insistence on the primacy of the canonical Scriptures in matters of doctrine, and on the other, it is the right of the individual conscience to determine freely its adhesion to or separation from a given doctrine.
Despite the tensions, if not contradictions, that have occurred in the development of this Lutheran body of doctrine, and have prevented it from achieving a cohesive and changeless form, the main doctrinal points can be described.
Sinful Man before God. The principal concern of all Lutheran theology—and this in accord with the concern of Luther himself—is the relationship of God and man. As a son of Adam, man is under the power of Satan. What is his status before God? The language Lutherans use in answer to this question is very strong. The Formula of Concord approvingly attributes the following statement to Luther himself: "Our free will has no power whatsoever in virtue of which man could prepare himself for justice or even seek it out. On the contrary, blind and captive man gives exclusive obedience to Satan's will and perpetrates thereby things offensive to God" (Solids declaratio 2; Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelischlutherischen Kirche [BSLK] 889). On this basis alone one might be inclined to use the term "totally depraved" in reference to the Lutheran concept of human nature. That, however, would not be just in light of this further statement: "Fallen man does not cease to be a rational creature …; furthermore, in civil and external matters he is able somewhat to discern the good from the bad and even freely to do some things and desist from others" (ibid. 879). The entire matter is viewed in a religious context; fallen man, on his own, is absolutely helpless, as far as the God-relationship is concerned. "Before conversion man is, indeed, a rational creature, having intellect and will (though no understanding of divine realities nor will to do what is good and salvific). He is, nonetheless, able to contribute nothing to his own conversion" (ibid. 895–896).
A difficulty that pervades the Lutheran synthesis of the God-man relationship appears here. If man is unable to contribute anything to his own conversion, is he really able to be converted? This Lutheran doctrine, as proposed in the confessional writings and traditionally explained by theologians, is susceptible to being understood in a sense consonant with the teaching of the Council of Trent (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 1551–53; cf. 1554–55, 1557, 1559), although the accent is indeed heavy upon the notion of human impotence and depravity.
Law and Gospel. The omnipotent Word of God breaks through the impotency of fallen man in two distinct forms: (1) in the preaching of the law, which makes man aware of his sins and the wrath of God, for "the Law, properly so-called, is any divine doctrine wherein is set forth the most just and changeless will of God, concerning the obligations incumbent on man as regards his being, and his thoughts, words, and deeds, with a view towards his attaining God's approval and acceptance" (Formula of Concord, Solida declaratio 5; BSLK 957); and (2) in the heralding of the Gospel, which consists exclusively in the proclamation of God's graciousness and clemency, made visible in the forgiveness of sins; this leads to faith, because the Gospel consists in the "doctrine which states what a miserable sinner must believe in order to be forgiven his sins by God" (ibid. 958).
This is the familiar Lutheran distinction between law and Gospel. Both deserved to be proclaimed, the former as subordinate and directed to the latter. And the force of the Lutheran witness is accented by the observation that to confuse law and Gospel with each other leads to an obscuring of the merit and good works of Christ, and a transformation of Gospel into law, "such as we see has happened under the Papacy" (ibid. 961).
The Lutherans protested that in the Church of the late Middle Ages the Gospel was presented as a set of obligations, which, when fulfilled, ensure God's approval and acceptance of man. This charge has been transmitted in the confessional writings, as well as in the thought of contemporary Lutheran theologians. For them, universally, the word productive of faith is the proclamation that "the son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, took upon himself the burden of the Law's curse; that he offered altogether adequate satisfaction for our sins, in such wise that through Him alone are we reconciled with God, receiving forgiveness of sins through faith, freedom from death and the other punishments of sin and eternal salvation" (ibid. 958).
Fiducial Faith. In the process of justification, man's response to God is shown in his firm confidence in the merits of Christ. "Justification calls for three things, and three things only: God's grace, Christ's merit, and faith. Faith, moreover, takes hold of the very gifts which God promises in the Gospel; and on its account the righteousness of Christ is deemed ours. Through it also we have our sins forgiven; we are reconciled with God; and we become his adopted children and heirs of eternal life" (Formula of Concord, Solida declaratio 3; BSLK 922). When the Gospel is proclaimed, both the grace of God and the merit of Christ are set forth openly, and this in the form of a promise: the graciousness of God the Father belongs to the man who trusts solely in the merit of Christ. Fiducial faith, then, according to the Lutheran position, is an attitude of total confidence in the merit of Christ; and its correlative is justification or righteousness.
Although this position does not accord altogether with the description of faith as furnished, for example, by Vatican Council I (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum 3008), in which both the gratuity of this divine gift and the revealed truth to which faith clings are emphasized, still the Lutheran concept of faith is not devoid of reference to the content of the Gospel. "Faith is a gift of God whereby through the word of the Gospel we rightly acknowledge [agnoscimus ] Christ as our Redeemer and put our trust [confidimus ] in him …" (BSLK 917–918). Thus two elements are necessary, but any mere knowledge (Melanchthon called it otiosa notitia ) of revealed dogmas is not worthy of the name faith. "Faith is not mere knowledge, but much more the will to receive or take to oneself whatever is offered in the promise concerning Christ" (Apology for the Confession of Augsburg 4; BSLK 203). Lutherans, furthermore, distinguish between conversion and justification. The latter involves solely and exclusively the faith described above. Conversion, on the other hand, includes such realities as sanctification and the renewal of one's life—good works. These latter are never thought of as meritorious, but rather, as the natural fruit and sign of true righteousness.
All of the factors of the Christian life set forth by St. Paul and synthesized in the tradition of the Church are present also in the Lutheran doctrine of justification and conversion, but with the additional element that produces the radically different order given to the doctrine, namely, the Lutheran preoccupation with the personal certitude of justification. This accounts for the emphasis upon confidence or trust as an element of faith and the insistence that good works are not properly a part of justification. It also illumines the meaning of the Lutheran slogan, simul justus et peccator. In the Lutheran conception, justus refers properly to the man of faith who has trust in the promises made in Christ, and not to the man of faith inasmuch as he is "converted," i.e., interiorly, though imperfectly, renewed.
Ecclesiology. Lutheran ecclesiology takes its origin from Martin Luther's interpretation of the common priesthood of the faithful. From it stems the description of the church provided by the Confession of Augsburg, "The assembly of believers where the Gospel is preached in its purity and the sacraments are rightly administered." To be a believer is to be a constitutive member of the holy people of God, whom St. Peter calls "a chosen race [and] a royal priesthood" (1 Pt 2.9). The sense attached to these propositions was affected by the situation in the early years of the Reformation. As it appeared to Luther and his disciples, the crucial hindrance to reform in the Church was the attitude of the bishops, including the Roman Curia. This view took the form of a dilemma; either cede to the bishops and abandon the movement for a reform or proceed without them. By choosing the latter course, Lutherans radically affected their ecclesiology. However, because the Gospel must be preached and the Sacraments administered, the assembly of believers requires "ministering men." These are provided for by choice and ordination in such ways that they are considered representatives of the congregation. There is an ambiguity in such an arrangement, but Lutheran theologians have, for the most part, been satisfied to continue the emphasis upon the common priesthood of the faithful, leaving the doctrinal basis for a ministry uncertain.
Church and State. In 16th-century Germany the bishops of the Church as temporal lords were key figures in determining the balance of political power. Lutheran denouncement of episcopal hegemony in the Church, therefore, constrained them to depend on princes and nobles for the support of their religious views. This led eventually to the cujus regio ejus religio settlement of the Peace of Augsburg. More significant was the tendency to put the choice of the ministers of their church into the hands of Lutheran princes and thus to make way for the state church. The Augsburg Confession teaches that "ecclesiastical power and the power of the sword are different one from the other. Furthermore, both of them, according to God's command, are to be revered religiously and treated with honor as the highest gifts of God on earth" (art. 28). In Lutheranism, therefore, political society and the assembly of believers differ, one from the other, but the differences are not explicitly enunciated. As a result of this lack of clarity in doctrine, Lutheran churches became subjected to the control of the "venerable" political authority as state churches, with the restrictions this implies. The condition of Lutheranism in North America and in Germany in the 20th century indicates that it is viable in a more pluralistic society. There is a tendency today to question the relevance of the state church in Europe, which might lead to a reassessment of the notion of the "two powers."
From the Lutheran idea that faith creates the church, it might be concluded that the church is an invisible reality. However, the audible word of the gospel and the visible sign of the Sacraments are to be witnesses to the divine promise—remission of sins through the merits of Christ, whose sacrifice the Father accepts on our behalf. "Just as the word [of the Gospel] falls upon the ear and thus strikes the heart, so the [sacramental] rites are set forth before our eyes also to move the heart …. Theeyes take in the rite which is a picture of the Word, as it were, signifying the same thing as the Word. So they have exactly the same effect" (Apology for the Confession of Augsburg 13; BSLK 292–293).
Therefore the church is visible, but only to those who have this faith in the promises of God. And the real church has as members those who hear the Gospel and see the Sacraments fruitfully. Wherever the Gospel is heard and the Sacraments are seen, faith is conceived in some: this is the church.
Sacramental System. The term sacrament refers to three rites, all of which, according to the Lutheran view, have their divine origin guaranteed in the Scriptures: baptism, penance, and the Eucharist (Apology for the Confession of Augsburg, loc. cit. ). Notwithstanding the conviction that faith is a requisite factor for the fruitfulness of the Sacraments (ibid. ), the practice of infant baptism is retained on the grounds that the church owes them the proclamation of the promises on which the church's life is based.
Lutheran doctrine concerning the Eucharist was formulated first in opposition to certain dogmatic positions of the Roman Catholic Church and became more defined in debates with Calvinistic and Zwinglian divines. Thus the following two composite theses are paramount: (1) in the Eucharist the Body and Blood of Christ are present in, with, and beneath [the forms] of bread and wine; and thus they are our souls' real meat and drink; (2) only those who believe actually profit from reception of the Eucharist; and faith is at the same time awakened and bolstered in them. Nonbelievers, moreover, receive the Body and Blood of Christ to their condemnation.
In the 16th century, Lutherans inveighed strongly against the Mass as a sacrifice; their objection was in keeping with the first principle of their ecclesiology, the common priesthood. The debate suffered from misunderstanding concerning the teaching of the Catholic Church on the sacrificial character of eucharistic worship. Hence this has become a lively topic in 20th-century ecumenical dialogue.
Present-day Lutheran theologians are mostly silent about the sacrament of penance; and, although the dicta of the Apology stand as such, the practice of confession is rare in the Lutheran churches.
Scripture and Tradition. The "formal" part of Lutheranism is a complex of convictions about the way the doctrinal content of its confession of faith is received, preserved, and developed. The first element of this complex consists in authoritative documents, especially the Old and New Testaments. According to the Formula of Concord, the Scriptures are the one and only rule and norm (norma normans ), according to which all dogmas and all teachers, living or dead, are to be judged. Other documents are enumerated, but with careful emphasis on their circumstantial and, therefore, temporary character in relation to the Scriptures. Just as the ancient creeds were formulated to combat primitive heresies, so too the Lutheran confessional writings (a list is given in which the Confession of Augsburg and its companion Apology rank first in authority) were necessarily constructed to clarify the religious questions of the 16th century. These latter documents are designated as normae normatae. They stand as authoritative but in subjection to the judgment of the Scriptures.
Besides the Scriptures, however, Lutheranism admits a notion of tradition, composed of two factors: (1) the authority of the university professors, who de facto have served as quasi-official interpreters of Lutheran doctrine, and (2) the observation of what has occurred in the Lutheran churches through the centuries, as various influences and currents of thought affected them.
Perhaps this can be understood initially through reflection on Martin Luther's own protest before the Diet of Worms: "Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason—I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other—my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen." [R. H. Bainton, Here I Stand (New York 1950) 195].
The formal element in Lutheranism, therefore, is Holy Scripture as authoritatively interpreted through the Lutheran confessional writings and as understood through the "Lutheran conscience"—however that may be formed in a given epoch, and to the exclusion of any exterior constraining norm. Note that any explicit reference to the "interior testimony of the Holy Spirit" as a normative factor is practically absent from the Lutheran tradition.
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[m. b. schepers/eds.]
"Lutheranism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 21, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lutheranism
"Lutheranism." New Catholic Encyclopedia. . Retrieved February 21, 2019 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/lutheranism