What is a Lutheran?
A Lutheran is a Christian who believes in, receives and celebrates God’s grace revealed in Christ’s death and resurrection and through the work of the Holy Spirit, on a daily basis. Lutheran Christians follow the theological teachings of Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk and professor who struggled to understand how God could love him, a sinner. Through Luther’s study of scripture, work in translating the Old and New Testaments of the Bible into German, and critique of the theology and practices of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1500s, he developed the basics of Lutheran theology. Martin Luther believed that Christians are saved by grace through God’s work in Jesus, not by anything we do. He realized that humans were both saint and sinner at the same time, capable of doing good things but also constantly sinning.
He believed that the only authority that could say what scripture meant was scripture itself. He viewed the scriptures as the inspired and written word of God, but also saw that Jesus Christ was the word of God made flesh, and a source of revelation from God. Luther believed that scripture contained both law and gospel, both a clear understanding of human sinfulness that accuses us and a clear revelation of the good news of God in Jesus Christ.
Lutheran Christians celebrate two sacraments, or signs of God’s grace and love, the sacrament of baptism and the sacrament of Holy Communion. In baptism, we are washed clean of our sin, given new life in Christ, joined to Christ in his death and resurrection, made a part of the body of Christ, marked with the cross of Christ forever, and sealed with the Holy Spirit.
In Holy Communion, we receive the body and blood of Christ, being fed so that we can go forth and live as members of the body of Christ in the world. We receive a sign of God’s love and forgiveness and participate in a foretaste of the feast to come.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the largest Lutheran denomination in the United States of America, is one of the largest Christian denominations in the U. S., with 10, 000 congregations and 4.2 million members.