Is the Lutheran Church and Lutheranism Biblical? The Facts, Beliefs and History

Lutheran and Lutheranism

Lutheranism is a major mainstream Protestant branch that claims to be Christian. It emerged in Germany during the Reformation of the 16th century. It is based on the teachings of German theologian Martin Luther (1486-1546) who rejected parts of the theology and organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church. Originally a term of derision coined by enemies, its adherents came to call themselves "Lutherans." After a series of religious wars that lasted to 1648, the status of Lutheranism stabilized, dominating Scandinavia and the central and eastern parts of Germany. Today it is also well represented in Africa, Indonesia and the United States.

Is Lutheranism Biblical?

What the Bible Really Teaches:


General Information

Lutheranism is a major Protestant denomination which originated as a 16th-century movement led by Martin Luther. Luther, a German Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony (Sachsen), originally had as his goal the reformation of the Western Christian Church (the Catholic Church). Because Luther and his followers were excommunicated by the pope, however, Lutheranism developed in a number of separate national and territorial churches, thus initiating the breakup of the organizational unity of Western Christendom. Before he died (18 Feb., 1546), his teachings had been propagated in many states of Germany in Poland, in the Baltic Provinces, in Hungary, transylvania, the Netherlands, Denmark and Scandinavia. From these European countries Lutheranism has been carried by emigration to the New World, and in the United States it ranks among the leading Protestant denominations.

The name "Lutheran" originated as a derogatory term used against Luther by Johann Eck during the Leipzig Debate in July 1519. Eck and other Roman Catholics followed the traditional practice of naming a heresy after its leader, thus labeling all who identified with the theology of Martin Luther as Lutherans. The term was deplored by Luther, and the church originally called itself the "Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession" or simply the "Evangelical Church". Lutherans themselves began to use the term in the middle of the 16th century in order to distinguish themselves from other groups, such as Philippists and Calvinists. In 1597, theologians in Wittenberg used the title "Lutheran" to describe their church. Scandinavian Lutherans adopted the names of their countries for their churches (for example, the "Church of Sweden").

As a result of the Protestant missionary movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, Lutheranism has become a worldwide communion of so-called Christians and the largest Protestant denomination in the world, with about 80 million members.

What is the Lutheran Church, and what do Lutherans Believe?

The Lutheran "Church" is actually many different bodies, all of which base their teachings and practice to some degree on the work of Martin Luther. There is such a wide variance in their particular beliefs that it would be difficult to address them all, but this article will attempt to outline those most commonly held.

Though there are quite a few organized Lutheran groups around the world, the two main bodies in America are the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS). The ELCA has roughly 5 million members in 10,500 churches, and the LCMS has roughly 2.3 million members in 6,167 churches. The ELCA was formed in 1988 by a merger of the American Lutheran Church, the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, and the Lutheran Church in America. The LCMS was formed in 1847 by Saxon (German) Lutherans who came to America to escape persecution and the detrimental effects of German Rationalism on their faith. Both churches hold to the Augsburg Confession, which teaches that all men are born in sin, and therefore need to be justified through faith in Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Along with faith in Christ, baptism is "necessary for salvation" and therefore "children should be baptized, for being offered to God through baptism they are received into his grace" (Art. IX). The church teaches that all men have some measure of freedom of the will—which is ironic considering Luther comes to the opposite conclusion in one of his most famous books, The Bondage of the Will. Lutherans also believe that, without God's grace and help, given by the Holy Spirit, man is incapable of fearing or believing in God.

Many of the ceremonies and liturgies of the Catholic Church have been carried over into the Lutheran Church, with modifications to reflect their distinct doctrines. Some of the differences between the ELCA and LCMS stem from their divergent views on the Bible. While the LCMS affirms that the Bible is infallible in all areas (Psalm 19:7; 2 Timothy 3:16), the ELCA states that it is possible for the Bible to be in error concerning some areas, like science or history. In general, all Lutheran churches teach salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, but the manner in which that faith is lived out can vary from an empty participation in ceremonies to a very personal relationship with God.

Doctrine and Practices – An Examination

Lutheranism affirms the ultimate authority of the Word of God (as found in the Bible) in matters of faith and Christian life and emphasizes Christ as the key to the understanding of the Bible.

Salvation by Faith

Salvation, according to Lutheran teaching, does not depend on worthiness or merit but is a gift of God's sovereign grace. All human beings are considered sinners and, because of original sin, are in bondage to the powers of evil and thus unable to contribute to their liberation. Lutherans believe that faith, understood as trust in God's steadfast love, is the only appropriate way for human beings to respond to God's saving initiative. Thus, "salvation by faith alone" became the distinctive and controversial slogan of Lutheranism.

Opponents claimed that this position failed to do justice to the Christian responsibility to do good works, but Lutherans have replied that faith must be active in love and that good works follow from faith as a good tree produces good fruit.

Catholics believe in saved by grace. But it is a faith that is not separated from works (per James). Faith inherently includes these works. But we're not saved by faith alone (that's where Lutheranism and Protestantism errs); we're saved by grace alone. That is the Catholic teaching. Grace is primary in the whole process, so in that very real sense we can say "saved by grace alone" (i.e., without separating works of course) -- whereas we can never say "saved by faith alone" (i.e., with works playing no part at all) -- which is classic Lutheran and Protestant heresy, or "saved by works alone" (i.e., without grace) -- which is the Pelagian heresy. The true Catholic position will always include the works alongside grace and faith.

The majority of Protestants not only believe in faith alone, but also in eternal security, which means that according to them, a true believer cannot lose his salvation. These doctrines contradict both the natural law and reason which says that every man shall be rewarded or punished for his deeds. It also contradicts, word for word, the teaching of James 2 in scripture, which teach that faith without works is dead, and that man is not saved by faith alone. A person who believes in faith alone or eternal security is a heretic, because he rejects a truth he knows to be true from the natural law, that God is a rewarder and a punisher of our actions, and that faith alone does not justify a man only, but our deeds also.

Galatians 5:19-21 "Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are fornication, uncleanness, immodesty, luxury, Idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, emulations, wraths, quarrels, dissensions, sects, Envies, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like. Of the which I foretell you, as I have foretold to you, that they who do such things shall not obtain the kingdom of God."

How clear does it have to get? You can lose your salvation if you do certain things.

Worship

The Lutheran church defines itself as "the assembly of believers among which the Gospel is preached and the Holy Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel" (Augsburg Confession, VII). From the beginning, therefore, the Bible was central to Lutheran worship, and the sacraments were reduced from the traditional seven to baptism and the Lord's Supper (Eucharist), because, according to the Lutheran reading of the Scriptures, only these two were instituted by Christ. Worship was conducted in the language of the people (not in Latin as had been the Roman Catholic tradition), and preaching was stressed in the divine service.

Eucharist

In the Lutheran celebration of the Eucharist, the elements of bread and wine are given to all communicants, whereas Roman Catholics had allowed the wine commonly only to priests. In contrast to other Protestants, particularly the Anabaptists, however, Lutherans affirm the real bodily presence of Christ "in, with, and under" the elements of bread and wine at the Lord's Supper. Christ is sacramentally present for the communicant in the bread and the wine because of the promise he gave at the institution of Holy Communion, when he said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood" (Matthew 26:26-28).

However Luther explicitly rejected the dogma of transubstantiation, believing that the bread and wine remained fully bread and fully wine while also being fully the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Luther instead emphasized the sacramental union (not exactly the consubstantiation, as it is often claimed). Lutherans believe that within the Eucharistic celebration the body and blood of Jesus Christ are objectively present "in, with, and under the forms" of bread and wine (cf. Book of Concord). They place great stress on Jesus' instructions to "take and eat", and "take and drink", holding that this is the proper, divinely ordained use of the sacrament, and, while giving it due reverence, scrupulously avoid any actions that might, according to them, indicate or lead to superstition or unworthy fear of the sacrament.

Protestants do not believe that the Eucharist is the actual body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Catholics believe that after the consecration at Mass, “the Lord Jesus Christ, true God and true man, is truly, really, and substantially contained” in the Eucharist under the appearance of bread and wine (Council of Trent, Decree on the Eucharist). The Catholic view of the Eucharist was unanimously held for the first 1,500 years of Christianity. The biblical support for the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist is overwhelming and undeniable.

John 6:51-58 “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world. The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whosoever eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him. As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me. This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.”

Jesus says over and over again, in the clearest terms, that His flesh is food and His blood is drink. He says that unless you eat His flesh and drink His blood you shall not have life in you.

Non-Catholics claim that the words of Jesus in John 6 are not meant to be understood literally. They claim that Jesus was speaking only metaphorically or symbolically. Such an interpretation is not justified by the context of John 6. Furthermore, it is clearly refuted by what Jesus said to the Jews immediately after expressed their disbelief at the idea of eating His flesh.

John 6:52-53 “The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat? Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”

The Jews did not believe that it was possible (or that Jesus could really mean) that He would give them His flesh to eat. They said exactly what the Protestants are saying today. If Jesus had been speaking in purely metaphorical (rather than literal) terms, as the Protestants say, then here was the perfect opportunity for Him to assure them that their fears were unfounded. It was the perfect moment for Jesus to explain that He didn’t really mean that people would eat His flesh, but that He meant something else.

So what does Jesus say to them? In response to their disbelief, we see that Jesus repeats the same message, that it’s necessary to actually eat His flesh and drink His blood, but in even stronger terms. He tells them that if they don’t eat His flesh and drink His blood they will not have life in them (John 6:53).

Jesus says that people need to eat His flesh and drink His blood (and that His flesh is food) approximately ten times in this chapter. Not once does He indicate that His meaning is not literal; nor does He do so here.

Rather, by emphasizing to them that what He said about His flesh and blood is “spirit and life,” Jesus was dispelling their notion that all they should be concerned with is having flesh to eat for the sustenance of physical life. The Eucharist is the actual flesh and blood of Jesus (as He makes clear), as well as His soul and divinity, but it primarily brings a spiritual endowment. It is spirit and life. It is primarily for the sustenance of spiritual life and having eternal life.

It is not received for the purpose of filling a hungry stomach, but for the inestimable spiritual life and graces that it brings. That’s what Jesus was telling them. This is confirmed by the next point, which shows that even after His words in John 6:63, many of Jesus’ followers left Him over the “hard saying” about His flesh and blood. They realized that Jesus was telling them that they must eat His flesh and drink His blood, but they simply refused to accept it.

John 6:60-68 “Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is a hard saying; who can hear it? When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you? ... From that time many of his disciples went back, and walked no more with him. Then said Jesus unto the twelve, Will ye also go away? Then Simon Peter answered him, Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.”

If Jesus did not really mean that people would eat His flesh and drink His blood, then He would have clarified His meaning and stopped these disciples from leaving Him over a misunderstanding. He would have said something like this: “Wait, you misunderstood me. I was only speaking symbolically. I didn’t really mean that people would eat my flesh and drink my blood.” But He doesn’t do anything of the sort. He lets everyone who cannot accept His message walk away. This is an overwhelming contextual indication that everyone understood that Jesus was speaking literally of the necessity to eat His flesh and drink His blood. They simply couldn’t accept it, and Jesus wasn’t going to deny the truth or modify what He had told them.

The fact that many of Jesus’ followers left Him over the necessity to eat His flesh and drink His blood is sadly illustrative of how this issue would, at different times in Church history, be a prime cause of people leaving the true faith of Jesus. It happened again in the 16th century, when many left Jesus and His true faith because they refused to believe that the Eucharist is the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.

See The Bible teaches that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.

Baptism

Lutheranism correctly affirms the traditional practice of infant baptism as a sacrament in which God's grace reaches out to newborn children. For Lutherans, baptism signifies God's unconditional love, which is independent of any intellectual, moral, or emotional achievements on the part of human beings.

See The Bible teaches baptismal regeneration and that baptism is necessary for salvation. Also see The proof for infant baptism.

Doctrinal Texts

Although Lutherans accept the canonical books of the Bible as "the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be judged" (Formula of Concord), they also recommend the books which the Protestant calls the Apocrypha (and which Catholics call the Deuterocanonical books and which is part of the true Biblical Canon) of the Old Testament for Christian edification and have traditionally included them in vernacular versions of the Bible. Lutherans accept the authority of the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene, Athanasian) and use the first two regularly in worship services. The special doctrinal statements of Lutheranism are Luther's Schmalkald Articles (1537), Small Catechism (1529), and Large Catechism (1529); Melanchthon's Augsburg Confession (1530), Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), and Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1529); and the Formula of Concord (1577), which was written by a commission of theologians after the deaths of the original reformers. Together with the creeds, these documents constitute The Book of Concord, adopted by Lutheran princes and cities in 1580. Only the creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and Luther's two catechisms, however, have been recognized by all Lutheran churches.

According to Luther, the Bible teaches that Scripture (the written word of God) is the only rule of faith for a Christian. Along with Justification by faith alone (sola fide), Scripture alone (sola scriptura) was one of the central tenets of the Protestant reformation.

However, the truth is that the Bible does not teach that Scripture is the only rule of faith for a Christian. The Bible teaches that both Scripture and apostolic tradition are sources of Christ's revelation, and that one must accept both of them along with the Church. That's why the Catholic Church has always taught that there are two sources of divine revelation (Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition); and that the Church instituted by Jesus Christ was given authority to determine the authentic meaning of Scripture and Tradition.

If the Bible is the only rule of faith for a Christian, then logically the Church or tradition would not be a rule of faith for a Christian. However, the Bible clearly teaches that one must hear the Church and follow tradition.

Matthew 18:17 "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican."

2 Thessalonians 2:15 "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle."

Luke 10:16 "He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me."

This teaching of Jesus, that one must hear the Church under pain of being considered a heathen, refutes the entire idea of Scripture alone.

Jesus' condemnation of the "tradition of men" (Matthew 15:9, Mark 7:8, etc.) had nothing to do with the true apostolic tradition, which the Bible says we must accept. Jesus was condemning the man-made practices of the Pharisees.

2 Thessalonians 3:6 "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us."

Further, the bible teaches that the church, not the bible, is the pillar and foundation of the truth.

1 Timothy 3:15 "But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."

As one former Protestant minister (who eventually saw the falsity of Protestantism) put it: "If I were writing that verse [1 Tim. 3:15] as a Protestant, I would have said that the Bible, not the Church, is the pillar and ground of the truth. But St. Paul says it's the Church. This means that the Church must be every bit as infallible as the Bible, and that it must present something unique by way of presenting the truth of Jesus Christ."

The unique role of the Church and the Pope is that it sets forth the true meaning of Scripture and Tradition in precise terms and dogmas, something the Bible was not intended to do in all of its passages, which should be obvious to any honest person considering the issue. All the thousands of sects that has been created throughout the ages, and especially after the Protestant reformation, simply because they didn't knew how to interpret scripture correctly, undeniably proves this fact. Moreover, if the Church is infallible and the pillar of truth, there must obviously be a way of recognizing its infallible teaching by means of a continued succession of authority which would safeguard the truth and exercise its authority.

See The Bible teaches that Jesus made St. Peter the first Pope. Also see The Keys of St. Peter and His Unfailing Faith.

Some Interesting Facts About Martin Luther,
The Originator of Lutheranism

Free Videos
www.Catholic-Saints.net
Free DVDs, Articles and Books
FREE DVDs & VIDEOS
WATCH & DOWNLOAD ALL OUR DVDs & VIDEOS FOR FREE!