What is a Lutheran Church?

See also the story of Lutheranism according to the ELCA

Who are the Lutherans?

Lutheran Protestants trace their origins to the early church and through the Reformation in Europe.  They are now prominent in the US, Tanzania, Indonesia and many other places.  The name Lutheran was first used as an insult against the associates of Martin Luther (16th century) – as in “you’re no Christian, you’re Lutheran.”   But Luther wasn’t trying to start a new sect.  He was hoping to see the church just be the church, and find new vitality in its roots: the gospel of Christ as actual good news for all people.

It’s not about ascending to spiritual realities up above, but God in Christ descending into the daily grind, to find us where we are and save us.

God comes down to meet us just where we are. (Image: from an FLC hiking trip).

Justification and Liberty

Martin Luther drew upon Paul’s words: “we are justified by grace through faith apart from works of the law.”

What justifies me being me?   Why should I have a future?  What makes me worthy?  Isn’t it my work?  Accomplishments?  So we hear in our society.  Respect goes to those who excel or are considered successful; who get lots of “likes” on their post and stay out of trouble: “it’s on you to measure up and get right with God.”

But the story of Jesus shows us that God’s love for us isn’t limited by how well we perform – or just to those born into privilege.  God already rejoiced in us before we were born. God promises us justice and a future – and we can’t do anything to attain or earn it by ourselves.  It’s grace.

We don’t often think of religious types as liberated people.  But if I don’t have to be constantly fretting about measuring up or proving myself to God and everyone else, I’m free to focus on helping people around me. Free to notice the needs of my neighbor.  Liberty lives as love (see Galatians 5-6).  Lutheran efforts in fighting poverty and disaster relief are important on a global scale.

A few more things about Lutheran Christianity

  • Many of us don’t consider ourselves “Lutheran” – or (for some of us) even “Christian,” because we don’t have it all together and figured out.
  • Emphasis on the vernacular – “speaking my language.”
  • Historically, music has been central: Luther urged congregations to sing when they were used to being audiences.  Music gives voice to the joy of good news.
  • God taking on real human, suffering flesh in Jesus Christ is central to our spirituality, so some of us tend to be earthy and like to joke around.
  • Other well known Lutheran theologians include J.S. Bach, Soren Kierkegaard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.