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1. Lutheran churches



Lutheran churches are those religious bodies that trace their distinctive interpretation of the Christian Gospel to Martin Luther and the 16th-century movements that issued from his reform. They take their place alongside Anglican and Calvinist communions to make up one of the three major branches of Protestantism. (see also Index: Lutheranism)

The Lutheran churches, originally in Germany but quickly spreading to Scandinavia, did not wish to be called after their founder. He had seen his work as an evangelical (i.e., Gospel-centred) reform within the Western Catholic church. The name Lutheran came from opponents of Luther and his reforms, but the epithet eventually came to be turned into a badge of honour among partisans of the reformer's interpretation.

Still, many of the leaders attempted to adopt other terms such as "Evangelical," which has subsequently become part of the official name of the church in various nations and territories. Others preferred, and prefer, to be called The Church of the Augsburg Confession, a title that recalls the Lutheran document presented by evangelicals to the emperor at the Diet of Augsburg in 1530. In the 20th century many have chosen to speak of their church as an "evangelical Catholic" movement, yet "Lutheran" they became and remain.

For several decades after 1530 this oldest and largest Protestant body hardly broke the European geographic bounds that were set for it. It was a negligible force in Presbyterian Scotland, Anglican England, the Reformed Lowlands and Switzerland, or in Catholic France, Spain, and Italy. There were early Lutheran movements in central Europe, as in Hungary, where the Reformed came to dominate in 1543, and in Transylvania. But Lutheranism prospered most in the many territories that were eventually to make up modern Germany and then the northern lands: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.

From this significant but well-defined territory, Lutheranism moved with substantial numbers into North America after the 1740s and in the 19th century from European and North American bases into much of the rest of the world. Still, most of its theological, intellectual, cultural, and political expression as well as the major trends in its development are best measured from northern Europe and especially from the German territories that it shared with Reformed and Roman Catholic Christians.

Lutherans claim to see their movement centred in the understanding that, thanks to the saving activity of God in Jesus Christ, they are themselves "justified by grace through faith." Early Lutherans invoked this theme against both Catholic and Reformed Christianity, both of which, though on differing grounds, they professed to see stressing salvation in part through good works or moral earnestness. This would be an endeavour to help the believer make a claim upon God and thus, thought Lutherans, would deprive Christians of the security of faith and would arrogate to human beings activities that belonged only to God. In Lutheranism the bond between God and the redeemed was entirely at God's initiative and through God's grace. The believer trusts this God. With most other Protestants, Lutherans based their teachings not on churchly authority but on the divinely inspired Bible.


i) The post-Reformation in Germany.

A generation after Luther the churches and territories that followed him theologically took part in a diet that produced the Peace of Augsburg (1555). This action accepted the principle cuius regio, eius religio, which meant that whoever governed a region determined its religion. It was a far remove from the modern policy of separation of church and state, for which the reformers could have taken little credit. Instead there developed what is often called "territorialism" in confessional life. Where once there had been one empire and one church, there now were numerous nations or principalities, each with its own official church.

The confessional church on territorial grounds compromised the very nature of a confession, which was to have been a freely accepted creedal statement. When a ruler chose to take his people into Lutheranism, they had to follow or suffer penalty, no matter what their deepest convictions. Yet if they had to accept territorial conformity, they were free to change the character of its faith through time. Lutheranism passed through numerous phases and appeared to be quite different in each.

Conventionally Lutheranism has been seen as having passed through a series of rather clearly defined stages, with movements of thought and practice termed Orthodoxy, Pietism, the Enlightenment, and the like. This convention points to complex realities with sufficient accuracy and thus serves well for understanding the complex movement after more than four and a half centuries.

1.        Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy came to dominate first. Whatever the ordinary people who rejected Catholic "work-righteousness" and were attentive to "grace" and "faith" were thinking, their pastoral and professorial leaders--and, for that matter, their princes, for politics was much involved in the new definition--grappled with orthodoxy in doctrine and practice. They did so perhaps out of a Germanic love for order and precision and more clearly because the first generation of Lutherans had left them with a rather unstable mix with which they had to deal.

One strand, most faithful to Luther himself, was more ready to live with the risky faith and the paradoxes that coloured his preaching and life, but it then converted the experience of such faith into rather rigid doctrine. In the second generation these "Gnesio-Lutherans" or "Genuine Lutherans," who gathered at centres like the university at Jena, followed impulses to bring order and precision to bear on the thought and the creeds they had inherited. In the eyes of many historians this party lost much of the drama and dynamic of Luther's witness. But it was also a belligerent faction, one that brought passion to its claims on orthodoxy.

Its opponents were called Philippists, after Philipp Melanchthon, the chief scholar at Luther's side and the author of the Augsburg Confession itself. Melanchthon was a humanist with a pacific outlook, who appeared to be a compromiser, as did his intellectual heirs, in the eyes of the Gnesio-Lutherans. They accused Philippists of "synergism," the contention that human beings could cooperate in the work of salvation. They also saw Reformed tinges in the Philippists' doctrine of the Lord's Supper.

By 1577 leaders of the Lutheran parties had agreed on a statement called the Formula of Concord and in 1580 sealed the Lutheran confessions in the Book of Concord which has been respected ever since and holds varying degrees of authority in Lutheran churches. In the century following, Lutheran scholars, led typically by Johann Gerhard, wrote the multivolumed Loci Theologici code names for books that stressed a proper doctrine or place for all Christian teachings. Scholastic in style, these books of dogma characteristically began with arguments proving the existence of God and the full authority of the verbally inerrant Bible.

2.        Pietism.

Orthodoxy bred reaction, and this Orthodoxy, soon perceived as rather sterile, did not satisfy pastors and people alike. From the 1670s into the 1760s Pietism flourished, originating again at universities, such as Halle, and spreading from thence to other schools and congregations. As the name implies, this movement stressed the piety of the individual or of the small groups of Lutherans who gathered as smaller "churches within the church" for prayer, Bible reading, moral scrutiny, and works of charity. Philipp Jakob Spener, a leader among the Pietists, wanted to remain orthodox but nonetheless engaged in criticism of what Pietists saw to be the barren larger Lutheran church of which they remained a part.

Pietism downplayed doctrinal definition and led to movements that helped make up the 18th-century German Enlightenment. The tendency of Pietism was to minimize supernatural and miraculous elements in Christianity and to stress reason and morality. Although ordinary worshipers seem to have been sustained by the Scriptures, hymns, and liturgies that retained these elements, scholars of Lutheranism initiated radical theological traditions that have characterized German universities ever since.

3.        19th-century developments.

In the 19th century the Enlightenment lived on in more romantic forms that gave a greater place to emotions. Some of these were philosophically idealistic, some Germanically nationalistic. At least two schools should be singled out. One, in the tradition of G.W.F. Hegel, saw Christian development against a huge screen of "thesis" and "antithesis," and under the great historian F.C. Baur at Tübingen posed Hebraic versus Hellenic, Catholic versus Protestant motifs and movements. This school began to cast doubt on fact and event in history and soon began to speak in terms of biblical myth. Out of it issued radical movements that led to theological extremism, as found in D.F. Strauss's Life of Jesus Critically Examined, an essay on the impossibility of writing a life of Jesus.

The second school, in a Neo-Kantian spirit, stressed biblical fact and event and issued in a quest for the historical Jesus. Under Albrecht Ritschl a number of Lutheran and Reformed theologians developed a theology that stressed morality and the will. Out of their efforts came the well-known late 19th-century German liberal theology with its devotion to Jesus as teacher and doer of good. (see also Index: Neo-Kantianism)

Thus a kind of intellectual schism emerged among 19th-century German Lutherans; one school pioneered in the application of historical methods to biblical studies, developing what came to be known as higher criticism of the Bible, while the other, in a conservative reaction, established more pietistic training centres for the clergy.

Events on the political level also caused schism. Frederick William III's successful efforts to form a Prussian Union church with the Reformed in 1817, while at first meeting with approval, soon prompted a critical reaction. Dissension came partly over Frederick William's new church order, according to which the territorial regent was placed into the position of chief bishop of the church, not because he was the head of state but because he was the person of highest status in the congregation. This decision was in violation of the Lutheran tradition regarding the relationship of church and state, and "confessionalists," who that year celebrated the third centenary of the Lutheran Reformation, promoted "back to Luther" movements. Some Lutherans refused to become part of the Union and formed the "Old Lutheran" church; others chose emigration. (see also Index: Reformed church)

Much of Lutheranism, however, remained obedient to the civil order, perpetuating a tradition begun by Luther himself. After the break with Rome, Luther had remained closely tied to the growth of German nationalism and welcomed the protection of German princes. Many of these became, in effect, "prince-bishops," with considerable church power. The Lutheran churches came to be established by law and supported by taxes in Scandinavia and in many parts of Germany. Further, Luther had a fear of anarchy and a predisposition to grant considerable power to the state as an instrument of order. While he himself was "civilly disobedient" in the face of the emperor in the 1520s, neither his theological vision nor his personal inclination led him to endorse revolution or radical critique of the state. Lutheranism, therefore, was generally obedient to the civil order, and its clergymen were often cast in roles that made them seem to be lower-level civil servants.



ii) Lutheranism in eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

Lutheranism was carried rather quickly from Germany to Bohemia and Austria, Poland and Hungary (where it remained a minority party), and then to the Scandinavian nations. There much of the proselytizing impulse came through universities, especially when scholars from north European schools studied in Germany and carried Lutheran ideas back north. Already in the 1520s and 1530s Denmark made its move to Lutheranism under the influence of its successive kings. A former monk, Hans Tausen, who became a convinced Lutheran, was the major theological influence.

Norway was in many ways a dependency of Denmark when about 1525 King Frederick I encouraged Lutheran preaching in Bergen. Norway followed Denmark into the orbit of Augsburg Confessionalism, as did Iceland, by importing Lutheranism from Denmark. Sweden's political restlessness similarly led that emerging nation to turn Lutheran under King Gustav I Vasa after 1523. Olaus Petri, a student at Wittenberg during the years of Luther's reform, brought conviction and passion to the task of spreading Lutheran ideas in Sweden. Although the King and Petri or his reformer colleagues often were in conflict, Petri's reformation ideas prospered. In Finland, Michael Agricola, still another former Wittenberg student, translated the New Testament and books of worship and helped Finland make a transition to Lutheranism before his death in 1557.

Scandinavian universities and churches generally followed developments parallel to those in Germany, albeit with a special accent on 19th-century Pietist revivals in Norway and Sweden that would make their impact through immigration to America. The major drama of Scandinavian Lutheranism occurred in 19th-century Denmark. There N.F.S. Grundtvig represented a romantic "folk-church movement," and Hans Martensen a kind of official church idealism. Søren Kierkegaard issued a devastating critique of both in the name of an existentialist encounter with Jesus, bypassing established and, he thought, dead Christendom.

iii) Lutheranism in North America.

American Lutheranism inherited both the Orthodox Confessionalism and the Pietism of the Continent. Enlightenment rationalism, however, was rarely advocated. The Lutherans began to go in large numbers to New York, the Carolinas, and especially Pennsylvania in the 1740s, where they were often gathered by the Lutheran patriarch Henry Melchior Muhlenberg. Many who went to America were poor, and some arrived as exiles or protesters against imposed conformity. Handicapped by their relatively late arrival and the fact that they spoke languages other than English and tended to live in rural enclaves, they had less impact on politics and culture than might be assumed, given the record of their counterparts in Europe.

Because Lutherans came from many nations, spoke many different languages, were propelled by a variety of motives, and were guided by leaders either unaware of or competitive with one another (as, for instance, "Pietists" versus "Confessionalists"), they tended to be isolated. As they became aware of one another, they became contentious. In the mid-19th century, for instance, a shaping influence was Samuel S. Schmucker, a Gettysburg (Pennsylvania) Seminary professor, who advocated Americanization and cooperation with the Reformed evangelical churches. Partly in reaction, the more Lutheran Confessional-minded Charles Porterfield Krauth, also at Gettysburg, stressed Lutheran distinctiveness. More militant in his defense of 17th-century orthodoxy was the great shaper of the Missouri Synod, Carl F.W. Walther, who was president of both the synod and its principal seminary, Concordia, at St. Louis. Walther advocated a policy that forbade Lutherans from communing or praying together if their synods were not in complete doctrinal agreement with one another.

The majority of American Lutherans were of German descent and were often suspect in the Anglo-Saxon milieu. They did not, in the main, support Prohibition and other Protestant social causes. Some retained the German language and were, generally falsely, suspected of German loyalties during World War I. In response they set out to prove themselves superpatriots and after the war they became more Americanized than before.

Through two centuries American Lutherans gathered about 8,000,000 Christians into scores of church bodies. In the 20th century, especially after 1918, they had a tendency to merge, and 5,500,000 of them united three bodies to become the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) in 1988. The largest non-ELCA group was the 2,500,000-member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which saw trends toward liberalism and ecumenical expression in the larger body that it did not welcome. Canadian Lutheranism, about 300,000 strong, is divided chiefly into two bodies parallel to the ELCA and the Missouri Synod in the United States and is strongest in Ontario and the Western provinces.

In the United States the ELCA constituency is chiefly northern. One large wing thrives in and around the states where Lutheranism first arrived: Pennsylvania, New York, Virginia, and the Carolinas. Another resulted from 19th-century immigrations from Scandinavia and Germany to the upper Midwest, with Minnesota having the largest number. The Missouri Synod has less strength in the East and is strongest also in the upper Midwest and around the Great Lakes. After World War II, partly through population mobility and partly through conscious efforts to found new congregations, Lutheranism came to be more of a national presence.

Lutherans in America developed an extensive network of seminaries, beginning at Gettysburg and Philadelphia, when it was seen that they could not depend upon clergy sent by agencies in Germany and Scandinavia. Most Lutheran groups founded colleges of their own, many of which remain strong church-related liberal arts institutions. The Missouri Synod and a smaller and still more isolated Wisconsin Synod established a flourishing network of parochial elementary and, in some cases, high schools. Originally these were shaped by a defensive mentality bent on sheltering the young from public school life. In more recent decades the schools have tended to attract non-Lutheran constituencies and to see themselves less as competition than as complements to public schools.

iv) Lutheranism in the 20th century.

In the 20th century, after the moral collapse of World War I, Lutherans along with the continental Reformed reacted against the humanistic liberalism that they felt failed to do justice to the radical difference between the divine and the human. There was a revival of biblical theology, often on existentialist grounds, as in the work of Rudolf Bultmann at Marburg, Ger. Historians like Karl Holl helped inaugurate a Luther renaissance. In Sweden Gustaf Aulen and Anders Nygren inspired theological revivals that stressed certain profound motifs in Christian and Lutheran thought.

To its shame, much of Lutheranism was silent or even concurrent when Hitler came to power and provided some intellectuals and some pastors for Nazi Church ("German Christian") leadership. At the same time, some of the neo-orthodox Lutherans joined with the Reformed in 1934 to establish a Confessing Church. In Martin Niemöller and Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Germany, Kaj Munk in Denmark, and Bishop Eivind Berggrav in Norway, it brought forth anti-Nazi heroes and, in some cases, martyrs. (see also Index: National Socialism)

"Mission fields" around the world--established in the 19th century from the Continent and from North America chiefly in the first half of the 20th century--later became younger churches. After the middle of the 20th century many of these showed a vitality that was disappearing or had gone from churches in Europe. In South West Africa/Namibia and elsewhere in Africa thousands gathered to worship and to use their churchly vision for meeting their political problems. Thus in South West Africa/Namibia, a territory under the domain of South Africa, Lutheran church members participated in the leadership of revolutionary organizations, contributing to the establishment of an independent Namibia in 1990. The Lutheran Christians thus developed a pattern different from the characteristic Lutheran one of passivity in politics or conservatism in the face of change.

In its northern homelands Lutheranism was anything but an expanding force after the mid-20th century. Yet, through the Lutheran World Federation and countless vital agencies and institutions, Lutherans continued to find ways of expressing the faith they had heard Martin Luther proclaim. They also took responsible parts in the formal ecumenical movement of the century in their endeavour to stress both their "evangelical" and their "catholic" sides. (M.E.M.)


i) Lutheran Confessions.

The official teaching of the Lutheran churches is that of the Book of Concord (1580), which contains the three ancient creeds (Apostles', Nicene, and Athanasian), the Augsburg Confession, the Apology of the Augsburg Confession, Luther's Schmalkaldic Articles, Luther's Small and Large Catechism, Melanchthon's "Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope," and the Formula of Concord. Of these Lutheran symbols only the Augsburg Confession and Luther's Small Catechism are accepted by all Lutheran churches. No general confessions of faith were adopted after 1580 by the Lutheran churches, although other doctrinal statements have served a confessional purpose for particular churches. (see also Index: Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed)

Partly because of the circumstances of its composition and partly because the Reformers understood their work to be a restoration of Christianity amidst contemporary corruptions, the Augsburg Confession emphasizes the continuity of the Lutheran teaching with the ancient Christian Church.

ii) Justification.

The teaching centres in the Gospel, or "justification": the doctrine that men "are justified freely on account of Christ through faith when they believe that they are received into grace and their sins forgiven on account of Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for our sins"; God "imputes [this faith] as righteousness in his sight" (Augsburg Confession, IV). Modern Lutheran theologians, among them Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich, have applied this doctrine about grace to doubt as well as to guilt and have called attention to the change in the cultural and religious situation since the 16th century. Thus, Tillich interpreted justification through faith as a person's accepting his having been accepted in spite of unacceptability.

This doctrine ("the article by which the church stands or falls") provides the key for understanding the Bible (Apology, IV. 3-5) as a book that has two kinds of content--law and promises. Law demands a perfect inward as well as outward obedience to the divine will, which reason can never achieve. As such it drives men to despair, but the despair is conquered by the promise that God justifies the unjust man. This means that in Lutheran theology, in the act of being justified before God, the human being recognizes no positive or constructive role for the law. "The law always accuses," always destroys what the sinner had thought would impress God. God then effects a new creation by producing the new and justified person in Christ. Theologically, the doctrine of justification gives a Christocentric (i.e., what honours Christ) stress and a practical (i.e., whether afflicted consciences are consoled) emphasis to the other articles of faith.

iii) Human nature.

Lutheranism has a doctrine of human nature that defines the natural state as one in which humans do not fear or love God and are self-seeking. Human beings have freedom of will concerning the outward observance of laws (civic righteousness) but not before God (where they are inevitably unrighteous). They have a knowledge of God but not a true knowledge (they think, for example, that righteousness is what God has rather than what God gives). (see also Index: free will)

Similarly, the meaning of predestination is to be sought not in the hidden counsel of God but in his revelation (Formula of Concord, Epitome XI). Lutheran teaching differs from the Calvinist double predestination by accepting the formal inconsistency of saying that believers are predestined to salvation without saying that unbelievers are predestined to damnation, for the purpose of the article on predestination is to console the troubled conscience. The mechanism of predestination has been the subject of controversy within Lutheranism (whether the decision of God is made "in view of faith"), but the basic position expressed in the symbols has been maintained.

iv) Church, sacraments, and ministry.

In opposition to the claim that the Roman Catholic Church was the only legitimate ecclesiastical organization, as well as to the biblicist demand to restructure the Christian Church according to the New Testament pattern, the Augsburg Confession (Art. VII) defines the church as the "congregation of saints [believers] in which the gospel is purely taught and the sacraments rightly administered." "Gospel" is interpreted to mean that God justifies believers on account of Christ, not on account of their merits (Augsburg Confession, V). Right administration includes the practice of communion under both kinds (bread and cup). For the unity of the church it is sufficient to agree concerning the gospel and administration of the sacraments. This is the formula Lutherans use to build ecumenical relations with other churches. But it also brings difficulties, for the meaning and degree of "agreement" are always difficult to define and measure.

Luther regarded the church as essentially hidden or invisible. Although it is as weak and sinful an institution as any other one, it is possible to believe that God works in and through the church because it is founded on God's word.

This doctrine has undergone transformations since the 16th century. Orthodoxy and Pietism understood the invisibility of the church to mean that only God knows who among the assembled people are true believers (the invisible church as distinguished from the visible congregation). In the 19th century a sacramental-institutional conception was formulated by some Lutheran theologians (e.g., the German leader Wilhelm Löhe), a congregational conception by others (e.g., the conservative American C.F.W. Walther), a national or folk conception by still others (e.g., the Danish leader N.F.S. Grundtvig), and a historical-evolutionary conception (i.e., the church as the first actualization of the Kingdom of God to be progressively realized in history) by others. Though these differences radically divided the Lutheran bodies in the 19th century, particularly in America, today Lutherans tend to live with different conceptions of church polity without letting such matters divide them.

Of the three sacraments (baptism, Lord's Supper, penitence-absolution) recognized by Luther and the Lutheran confessional writings, which are called symbols, in the Book of Concordthe Lutheran churches generally hold to two by combining absolution in part with baptism (daily repentance is the repeated actualization of baptism) and in part with the Lord's Supper ( confession and absolution). The criterion used in determining the number of sacraments was that they were actions instituted by Christ and connected with God's promise (Apology XIII). The symbols do not define the relation between word and sacraments except to say that they come together, and both have the effect of creating and strengthening faith. This is a rejection of the view that sacraments are effective ex opere operato (operative apart from faith) and that they are only memorial actions.

The Formula of Concord's teaching on the Lord's Supper is that Christ is bodily present "in, with, and under the bread and wine" (Solid Declaration, 35 ff., adopting Luther's terminology over Melanchthon's "with the bread and wine"). The Formula of Concord left open the question whether Christ is present in the sacrament because he is present everywhere, as one party contended, or whether he is present in the sacrament because he chooses to be. (see also Index: Real Presence)

In the 19th century some Lutherans (e.g., Gottfried Thomasius) distinguished word and sacrament by saying that the sacraments are intended for man's natural life as the word is for his conscious personal life. This view in some cases was carried so far (e.g., in Martensen and Friedrich Stahl) as to subordinate the word (as the presentation of salvation) to the sacrament (as the participation in salvation).

The ministry is conceived of as a service in word and sacrament but not a special status. Every baptized Christian is a priest by status (universal priesthood of believers), but the public preaching and administration of sacraments devolves upon "rightly called" ministers, who are priests by office.

v) Church and state.

The Lutheran churches generally have understood the relation of church and state on the basis of God's two ways of ruling in the world (two kingdoms). Through the "laws, orders, and estates" of the world God rules by compelling external obedience through fear and threat of punishment. Through preaching and sacrament he rules in apparent weakness by converting the human heart. This conception has provided Lutherans with a basis for understanding the constitutional separation of state and church in the United States.

The two domains of power and grace are interdependent because the word alone cannot preserve peace and justice--the civil government must even protect the freedom of the church to proclaim the Gospel--and civil power cannot effect salvation. Lutheranism has rejected the view that civil power is of itself evil, as well as the view that civil obedience has merit for salvation in the sight of God. (see also  political power, civil disobedience)

To define a citizen's relation to government one may say that in ordinary circumstances a Christian obeys the powers that be (except in matters of faith) as the agent of God's rule. But if a law or government is unjust, a Christian has the right and duty to resist it, passively accepting the consequences of disobedience for himself but actively defending his fellow man against that law or government. If the government is tyrannical, a Christian not only resists but rebels. Those Christians who also are holders of civil power have an obligation to resist and oppose misuse of such power by other rulers (as the territorial princes opposed the emperor in Luther's time). Lutheran scholars are not in complete agreement, but many would associate this view with Luther himself. In the 20th century it was developed by figures like the Norwegian bishop Eivind Berggrav, who resisted the Nazis.

In the 19th century the romantic view of the national state as expressing the spirit of a people was widely influential, but later it became suspect because of the demonic character of nationalism in the 20th century.

vi) Scripture and tradition.

The Lutheran Confessions, unlike the Reformed, have no article on Scripture, although the Formula of Concord does designate the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the "sole and most certain rule" for judging teachings and teachers.

Toward tradition the attitude of Luther and the confessions was conservative; they retained whatever did not conflict with the Gospel of justification through faith. They viewed the written tradition of the church fathers as useful for interpreting the Scriptures but not as a source or norm of teaching. Some Lutheran theologians in the 19th century developed an organic view of the relation of the two (i.e., Scripture contains a truth that is unfolded in the course of history) not unlike that of the Roman Catholics Johann Möhler and John Henry Newman.

vii) Ethics.

Lutheran teaching on ethics is determined by the perspective of the two kingdoms--the domain of law is not to be confused with that of the Gospel--and by the relation of faith and love implicit in justification. Works of love are the result, rather than the condition, of faith. Human beings have freedom from concern with self by the act of God and are enabled to direct their concern to other human beings. The works a person is to do are specified in part by his status in the world (as parent, ruler, subject, and other roles). Though early Lutherans thought of status in more natural terms (as "orders of creation"), recent Lutherans have given the concept a historical reference (e.g., a person's particular destiny). A person's calling is to do well whatever his status requires. A second factor defining the works a person is to do is the concrete need of fellow human beings.

viii) Controversies.

Lutheran teaching has been shaped in part by the theological controversies in its history, almost all of which were at one time divisive. They had to do with such questions as the relation between divine and human agency (synergistic controversy, predestinarian controversy); whether works are indifferent, necessary, or dangerous for salvation (antinomian controversy, Majoristic controversy); whether in a state of confessional disagreement any questions are neutral (adiaphoristic controversy); what the nature of the sacramental presence is; whether the divine power resides in the Scriptures only when they are being used or also apart from their use (Rathmann controversy); what are sufficient grounds for church unity (syncretistic controversy); and whether God's election of believers is made "in view of faith" or not (predestinarian controversy).


i) Liturgy and music.

The worship service also was affected by the theology of the Reformers. Luther's "German Mass" of 1526 reflects changes that began about 1523. Apart from shifting the emphasis from sacrifice to thanksgiving, Luther's chief innovation here was to take the words of institution out of the framework of prayer and make of them a proclamation of the Gospel. This change has been preserved to the present day, although there is now a tendency to put the words again into a eucharistic prayer.

Because of the Reformers' emphasis upon the importance of the word, the sermon took an essential place in the service. Preaching is usually based upon a biblical text, a biblical story or doctrine, or a theological theme. Partly in reaction to the 19th century, there is an effort to keep preaching biblically oriented, though not necessarily tied to specified texts.

The term mass, at first retained, is not normally used except in the Church of Sweden (högmessa) as a name for the main service of worship. The other minor services disappeared from use during the 17th century, though some have been recovered in the liturgical reforms of the last century. Only Matins and Vespers are used with any regularity.

The basic order of service in most Lutheran churches is the same. It consists of two main portions (preaching and sacrament) in which the Kyrie, Introit, Gloria, Credo, and Agnus Dei are incorporated. Under the impact of the liturgical movement in the 20th century the didactic emphasis has given way to an emphasis on celebration in the service. Liturgical revisions (Swedish order of 1942, German of 1954, in the United States in 1941, 1958, and 1978) have brought an even greater uniformity in the basic order. They have also restored communion as a normal part of the regular Sunday service.

Lutherans observe two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper (communion, Eucharist). The common practice is to baptize children and adults who have not been baptized previously. The frequency of communion has increased in recent years, but there are still many congregations where it is celebrated only once a month or less often. Though the usual practice has been that only those who have been confirmed may participate in the Eucharist, in 1970 the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church approved participation for 10-year-old baptized children, whether they have been confirmed or not.

The rites of the Lutheran churches are confirmation, ordination, marriage, and burial. In the rite of confirmation (usually between the ages of 10 and 15) a member makes public profession of the faith received in baptism. In the rite of marriage the church ceremony may replace the civil ceremony or it may serve as an invocation of blessing on the civil ceremony. Ordination of the clergy does not endow its members with a special character or give them a special status, but it sets them apart for the particular office of preaching the word and administering the sacraments. This rite is interpreted either institutionally (i.e., preaching is an order instituted by Christ and transmitted from generation to generation [succession]) or congregationally (i.e., the congregations call certain of their members to assume the functions of preaching and administering the sacraments for them). In 1970 the Lutheran Church in America and the American Lutheran Church approved the ordination of women, a practice carried over in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which came into being from a merger in 1988. There is no sacrament of extreme unction, but there is a burial service for the dead.

An important role was played in the Reformation by hymns, which not only conveyed the evangelical teaching but also allowed for popular participation in the church services. The best-known Lutheran hymns come from the period of the 16th and 17th centuries (e.g., "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" by Luther, "All Glory Be to God on High" by Nikolaus Decius, "O Sacred Head Now Wounded" by Paul Gerhardt, "Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying" by Philipp Nicolai, "Now Thank We All Our God" by Martin Rinkart). But each nation has made its contribution (e.g., Thomas Kingo in Denmark and Norway), and Lutheran hymnals today include hymns from many ages, nations, and communions.

Among the composers of choral music (cantatas, motets, masses, settings of the Passion of Christ) Johann Sebastian Bach ranks highest (e.g., Mass in B Minor, St. Matthew Passion, and St. John Passion). But other composers of importance were Michael Praetorius, Heinrich Schütz, and Dietrich Buxtehude. To this music should also be added the Scandinavian folk tunes (e.g., L.M. Lindeman in Norway).

ii) Education.

Education of the laity and clergy was an early problem for the Reformers. The means developed to meet it have had a formative influence on Lutheranism to the present day. (see also Index: religious education)

To instruct the people in Christian teaching, Luther not only translated the Bible into the vernacular but also wrote his Small and Large Catechisms (1528-29). The small one was to be used by heads of households to instruct those under their care. It includes not only the three parts that had been in use before (the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord's Prayer) but also three additional parts on baptism, the Lord's Supper, and absolution. Each topic in the various parts is connected with an explanation in the form of an answer to the question, "What does this mean?"--a device Luther used in order to avoid mechanical memorization. (see also Index: "Small Catechism", catechism)

The Small Catechism, with various expositions, has remained a basic instructional tool in the Lutheran churches, though it has been supplemented by other materials (e.g., Bible courses, Sunday school literature, projects).

In the 20th century efforts have been made to connect the secular world and the Christian tradition by establishing institutions such as the academies for laity in Europe (which provide opportunity for regular meetings of persons from specific vocations to discuss the relevance of Christianity to those vocations) and the church colleges in the United States.

iii) Organization.

The polity of the Lutheran churches varies from country to country. The Church of Sweden has maintained the episcopal succession unbroken, and congregations there are given great freedom to appoint their own pastors. The Danish Church lost but later regained the episcopacy. In Norway there is a closer tie between church and state than in the other Scandinavian countries. Since 1869, by an arrangement with Russia, the Finnish Church is independent of state control but is supported by public funds.

Until the end of World War I the churches in Germany were under secular authority, administered by a commission of laity and clergy, a system that grew out of the emergency situation of the Reformation. After the collapse of the government in 1918, the churches drew up new constitutions placing the congregations under a General Synod in some provinces and under a bishop in others; and the several provincial churches (Landeskirchen) were united in the German Evangelical Church Federation (1922). At the end of World War II, after the conflicts under Hitler, the Evangelical Church in Germany was organized under Bishop Theophil Wurm and Pastor Martin Niemöller, adopting the Declaration of Barmen (1934) as a binding statement. The United Evangelical Lutheran Church of Germany, formed in 1948, became a unit within the Evangelical Church in Germany. (see also Index: Barmen Declaration)

In the United States the Lutheran churches have the same denominational standing as other churches. The polity is congregational, but in a complex form in which congregations yield some authority to synods on regional and national levels. Elected heads are called presidents in some Lutheran bodies, but in the largest, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, they are bishops.

Besides these larger Lutheran churches there are a number of Lutheran free churches in Europe (e.g., Evangelical Lutheran [Old Lutheran] Church, Germany) and in the United States (e.g., Church of the Lutheran Confession), which have complete congregational autonomy.

The Lutheran World Federation, established in 1947, is a cooperative organization. 

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