Major World Religions Christianity Lutherans

About the Lutheran Church denomination of Christianity, some of the history of the Protestant church, beliefs and meanings behind the Christian religious tradition.



Lutheranism, the largest branch of the Protestant Church, grew out of the teachings of Martin Luther (1483-1546), a German priest. First an ascetic Catholic monk and then a professor of theology, he became convinced, by the study of the Scriptures, that salvation was obtained through the grace of God and not through the mediation of the priesthood. This principle conflicted with the fundamental Church practice of the sale of indulgences, which entitled the purchaser to forgiveness of sins. Luther attacked this custom in his 95 Theses (1517), and when he failed to withdraw his charges, he was excommunicated (1521). (See also: Highlights of World History, Chap. 8.)

From the start, Luther and his followers were in conflict with Rome and its adherents. This helped to produce an armed conflict: From 1618 to 1648 Catholic and Protestant princes grappled in a religious and territorial struggle known as the Thirty Years' War, which devastated Germany.

The term "Lutheran" was 1st used as an expression of reproach in a papal bull; Luther himself favored "Evangelical" as a name for his Church.

The basic Lutheran principle is "justification by faith"--that man's faith in God, rather than man's good works, will bring about his salvation. If people have faith in Christ, repent their sins, study the Scriptures, and receive the sacraments, Lutherans assert, their hearts will be altered and they will live the true Christian life. Lutherans regard the Bible as their sole guide; although they employ ordained ministers, they believe that every person is a priest and can approach God directly. They accept the Trinity and the virgin birth of Christ.

About 80 million persons are Lutherans today. Lutheranism is the religion of half the people of Germany. In Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden it is the established Church and receives support from the state. In the U.S., membership is over 8 million.

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