WHAT’S LUTHERAN? A church community built on Grace, Faith and Scripture.
So where did the name “Lutheran” come from anyway?
Back in the 1500s, there was this Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther. He had a sensitive soul and was plagued with guilt, doubt, and fear because he didn’t know about grace. He thought he had to please God. He thought he had to deprive himself of earthly pleasure, physically punish himself to make up for his shortcomings and perform good works to attain God’s favor and a chance at a place in heaven.
Seeing how troubled he was, one of his superiors pointed him to Scripture. Here he was a professional “church” guy but he didn’t know the Bible—seems kind of crazy. That’s because he didn’t have access to a Bible. Bibles were just too expensive for common folks. Not only that, it was written in Latin and Luther lived in Germany. Fortunately, Luther was educated and could read Latin. He started reading and studying the Scriptures and that was the beginning of his journey into grace. Luther discovered the verses from Romans 3, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (verses 23 and 24) and Ephesians 2, “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (verses 8 and 9).
The more Luther studied, the more he realized the church of his day had gotten off track—forgetting about grace and faith and deviating from the Scriptures. He set out to reform the church. The (Roman Catholic) church refused to reform and instead called Luther a heretic—essentially a wanted man who could be killed by anyone for false teaching. God protected Luther, and Luther made use of the recently invented printing press to proclaim to the masses what he learned about grace and faith from the Scriptures, which he also translated into German for the common people. Luther made many other contributions to the church, education, and society at large.
2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation that Luther started.
The “Luther Seal” features three signature themes Luther used to define part of the reform he was calling for from the church: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Scripture Alone. Luther also felt strongly about the common people and their purpose in life and ministry. Here are 5 themes that were the foundation of Lutheranism.
- Grace: It’s a word we’ve probably all heard, but what does it really mean? Grace is the love God has for us—for all people. We haven’t earned this love. We don’t deserve it. Throughout history people have tried to please or appease “the gods” to get their favor. After all, nothing in life is really free, right? Not so with God. We don’t have to earn His favor. We don’t have to balance out our good and bad deeds so that we can get into heaven. God saw people’s broken condition. Let’s face it. No matter how good any of us thinks we are, we know we aren’t perfect. That means we can’t please God. But God said, “I know they can’t do it. I will make a way.” That way is Jesus. We don’t have to reach up to God. He reached down to us. Jesus offered his life and death as our substitute. We don’t have to please God because Jesus already has. God takes Jesus’ perfect life and substitutionary death and credits them to our account. That’s grace—God making a way to rescue broken people, Jesus living a perfect life in our place and dying to pay for our mistakes.
- Faith: Faith is another word for trust. Despite grace, some people still try to lay claim to their being saved. They say that to be saved you need to make a decision, to ask Jesus into your heart, to say a certain prayer, to show certain signs, etc. But when we start putting strings on grace, it ceases to be grace. How do we receive God’s grace? By faith—by trusting in Jesus and what he has done. Even faith is not something we do! It is something God gives us through his Word, the Bible (“faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17).
- Scripture: Scripture—the Bible—is God’s Word. It is our foundation. Everything we believe comes from the Bible. The Bible is where we learn (the extent) of our broken condition. It is where we learn of God’s plan to make a way for us. It is where we learn of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. It is where we learn of grace and through it God gives us faith. We don’t find our teaching in what’s popular at the time or what makes people happy. Our teaching comes from Scripture. We don’t look for truth inside ourselves. We know truth—God’s truth—can only be found in Scripture.
- “Priesthood of all Believers”: Through Scripture (1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4), Luther realized all people can serve God and others through the unique gifts and talents God has given them. This happens in our work as well as in the church. Luther encouraged people to not exclude themselves from serving in the church, as if only the priest/pastor’s work is in the church. We are each called to serve God both through our work or our station in life as well as within the church. Thus the concept the “Priesthood of all Believers”–every believer is a “priest”–someone qualified to go to God directly. You don’t need to be a professional church worker to serve God, read Scripture, tell others about Jesus, teach your children about God. or serve God in the church. These privileges belong to all of us. The church is made up of a body (or community) of believers. The body has health as each “member” is engaged and involved using their God-given gifts and talents. “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Romans 12:4-5 and Eph. 4:15 “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
- “Vocation”: Another important Biblical teaching that Luther brought to light was that of vocation or calling. Whatever your job or station in life, you have a calling. Whether you work in sanitation, information, education, technology, hospitality or anything else, whether you are retired, a stay-at-home parent, or a student you can serve God. The Bible tells us, “Whatever you do, do it to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). As you seek to serve God with your life, God works through your life wherever you are. Serving God can happen whatever your work/task–whether employment or otherwise. Your vocation is serving God with a thankful heart through your daily tasks and serving others around you.
So, in summary, Lutheran is a church that focuses on:
- Grace: Freely given love, forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ… so we live sharing love, forgiveness and peace with others
- Faith: The Holy Spirit works this in our heart and continues to guide our lives through God’s Word.
- Scripture: God gave His word in the Bible to study, learn, and grow in His ways.
- Ministry: You have a place, purpose, and significance in ministry. You are an integral part of the body.
- Calling: Whatever your work, daily use your God-given, unique gifts and talents to God’s glory
These 5 themes shape what we do and how we act. We are not a perfect church, but one that seeks to love, grow, and serve. Our desire is to grow daily in a deeper understanding and appreciation of all God has done for us. Then we reflect that in our lives so more can come to know and experience life-changing grace and the love that God has for them. Come, experience Lutheran.