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"Seek, and you shall find; Ask, and it shall be answered." (Matthew 7:7)


So What's a Lutheran?

Here are some frequently asked questions -- and answers.

What do Lutherans think about Jesus?
What do Lutherans think about the Bible?
What does the Lutheran Church say about the Evolution vs. Creation debate?
What do Lutherans say about Communion?
Who can receive communion at a Lutheran Church?
Where did the Lutheran Church come from and what are its beliefs?
Are Lutherans like Catholics?
How many Lutherans are there in the United States?
How many Lutherans are there in the world?
What's the difference between the U.S. branches of the Lutheran Church?



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What do Lutherans think about Jesus?

We believe that Jesus Christ was both the son of Mary and the Son of God.While on earth, he was fully human and fully divine. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, lived and taught the way of God, loved and healed in miraculous ways, was arrested, beaten, and put to death on the cross. Three days later, Jesus was raised from the dead. He then taught his followers the purpose for his coming and at his ascension. We believe Jesus gave his followers the authority to bring the Gospel message to all the earth.



What does the Lutheran Church think about the Bible?


The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America interprets the Bible from a standpoint of "Historical Criticism." "Historical criticism" is an understanding that the Bible must be understood in the cultural context of the times in which it was written.


What does the Lutheran Church say about the Evolution vs. Creation debate?

The ELCA doesn't have an official position on creation vs. evolution, but we subscribe to the historical-critical method of biblical interpretation, so we believe God created the universe and all that is therein, only not necessarily in six 24-hour days, and that he may actually have used evolution in the process of creation.


What do Lutherans say about Communion?


Holy Communion is one of two sacraments in the Lutheran Church. (We believe a sacrament is a visible way - such as bread and wine- for God to give to us his grace and love.) At Holy Communion we remember the meal that Christ shared with his disciples the night before he died. We also believe that Christ is truly present with us through this meal. The bread and wine are the spiritual food needed for our life's journey.


Who can receive Communion at a Lutheran church?


Anyone who is baptized and believes that Christ is truly present with and for us may come. Denominational differences disappear at the Lord's Table. Whether Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, or no denomination in particular, the one bread and one cup we share reminds us that our unity is found in the mercy of Jesus Christ. We are united in our need for forgiveness and in the grace given to us through this meal.



Where did the Lutheran Church come from and what are its beliefs?


The Lutheran Church, as it's name implies, began with Martin Luther who began the reformation of the church back in the 1500's.


Luther was a brilliant and courageous German Augustinian monk who saw that the Roman Catholic Church was in need of a number of reforms. In trying to bring about the changes, Luther quickly found himself in trouble with the powers that be. His most famous act was the nailing of the 95 Thesis (articles for the purposes of debate) to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, in 1517.


Because the Guttenberg press had been invented just a century earlier, this list, along with Luther's subsequent writings, was printed and soon became widely distributed and read throughout Germany. Luther's writings eventually wound up in the hands of Pope Leo X. In his writings, Luther was questioning the validity of the then-common church-wide fundraising practice of selling indulgences. Indulgences were papers signed by the pope that, when purchased, granted the buyer remission of sins and a reduction of years spent in purgatory (an "in between" place between death and heaven).


Luther argued that God's grace and mercy are free, not subject to purchase. Luther argued that God's grace and mercy had already been purchased for us all by the precious blood of Jesus Christ on the cross. Luther rediscovered the biblical teaching that a person is justified before God by God's grace as a free gift.


In making his case, Luther questioned the authority of the pope. In a series of papal bulls (orders), the pope ordered Luther to recant his writings. Luther refused at the famous Diet of Worms in 1521 (an assembly of European princes and powerful Roman Catholic clergy held in the town of Worms). Luther told the assembly, "Unless I am convinced otherwise by scripture or by reason, I cannot and will not recant, for it is neither right nor safe to go against God and conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."

Luther was excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church and condemned, but had gained a substantial following of both commoners and the wealthy. Over the course of the 1520's and 30's, the separation between the "Lutherans" and the Roman Catholics grew wider. Battles of words and swords were fought. In short, much of Northern Europe aligned with the Lutheran camp, while the southern part of Europe remained in the Roman Catholic camp.


During the 1520s, 1530s, and 1540s, Luther continued to preach, teach and write. Luther proposed that the Mass - church service - ought to be said in the language spoken and understood by all people attending church, rather than Latin, the language spoken and understood only by a tiny highly educated minority. Luther also urged the clergy to make the Mass, the Bible, and church teachings easily understood by the common people - and went so far as to translate the Bible into German. Luther was also in favor of allowing clergy members to marry - a shocking idea at the time.

During the following centuries the church that took his name continued to grow throughout Europe. The Lutheran faith was brought to the United States by immigrants in the mid-1800s. Lutherans, mostly from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Germany, immigrated to America in large numbers in the 1850's and on, many settling in the upper Midwest.


Today, a Lutheran Church can be found almost anywhere in the U.S. and membership has grown beyond the descendants of Northern European immigrants to include members whose families immigrated here from all over the world, newly-arrived immigrants, and people of color.


Are Lutherans like Catholics?


Yes, in more ways than we are not. If you would attend a Lutheran worship service, you would find much similarity in the order of service, the lessons that are read, the hymns that are sung, the dress of the clergy, and the belief in the Triune God. The main beliefs that separate Lutherans from Catholics are the authority of the pope, the veneration of Mary, whether women can serve as priests or pastors, and whether priests can marry or not. On most other matters, Lutherans and Catholics are virtually in agreement.



How Many Lutherans are there in the United States?


There are 5.2 million Lutherans that belong to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America which is made up of almost 11,000 congregations. The second largest Lutheran denomination in the U.S. is the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod which has 3.1 million members. Lutherans comprise the 4th largest Protestant denomination in the U.S.



How many Lutherans are there in the world?


As a result of the Missionary movement of the 1700s and 1800s and 1900s, the Lutheran Church has spread around the world. It is currently the largest Protestant denomination in the world, with about 80 million members. Asia and Africa are currently the areas of most rapid growth for the Lutheran Church.

What are the differences between the main branches of the Lutheran Church in the United States?
The two largest branches of the Lutheran Church in the United States are the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). The differences between the two largely arise from historical and cultural factors, although some are theological in character.


When Lutherans came to North America, they started church bodies that reflected, to some degree, the churches that they left behind. Many maintained until the early 20th century their immigrant languages. They sought pastors from the "old country" until patterns for the education of clergy could be developed here. Eventually, seminaries and church colleges were established in many places to serve the Lutheran churches in North America and, initially, especially to prepare pastors to serve congregations.


The ELCA is the product of a series of mergers and represents the largest (5.2 million members) Lutheran church body in North America. The ELCA was created in 1988 by the uniting of the 2.85 million member Lutheran Church in America, 2.25 million member American Lutheran Church, and the 100,000 member Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches. The ALC and LCA had formed in the early 1960s g as a result of mergers of eight smaller ethnically based Lutheran bodies composed of German, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, Swedish, Slovak, and Dutch Lutheran churches.


The ELCA tends to be more involved in ecumenical endeavors than the LCMS (endeavors that involve working with non-Lutheran churches). The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, through predecessor church bodies, is a founding member of the Lutheran World Federation, World Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. The Lutheran Church Missouri Synod does not belong to any of these.


The LCMS sprang from German immigrant roots in the St. Louis area and has a continuous history since it was established in the U.S. in 1847. The LCMS is a second largest Lutheran church body in North America (3.1 million). It identifies itself as a church with an emphasis on biblical doctrine and faithful adherence to the historic Lutheran confessions. Insistence by some LCMS leaders on a literalist reading of all passages of Scripture led to a rupture in the mid-1970s, which in turn resulted in the formation of the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, now part of the ELCA.


The pattern of Scripture interpretation generally practiced in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in of America seeks to consider carefully the meanings of passages and their form. The time and place in which passages were written are studied to assist in interpretation. Emphasis is placed on the message of a text in the context of Scripture. As indicated in the ELCA's constitution, "This church accepts the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the authoritative source and norm of its proclamation, faith, and life."


For more information on the history and current documents of the ELCA, look at other resources linked to the "Who We Are" section of the ELCA web site. Another resource related to this topic is the bulletin insert series "With Confidence in God's Future."



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   Post Your Questions there too!

   - Prepared by the ELCA Department for Communication