Martin Luther did not set out to begin his own Church. On the contrary, it was his intent to reform the Catholic Church of his day. Priests traveled Europe selling indulgences to individuals whereby they would spend less time in Purgatory if they gave certain sums of money to the Church. Luther was incensed by this practice and said so many times.
He also denied the Pope´s "ex cathedra" (from the throne) ability when he spoke officially for the Church and did so without error. He appealed to his fellow Church, his peers in the priesthood and ultimately to Rome itself. In the end, he was labeled a troublemaker. Finally, when all was lost he felt reforming the Catholic of his day that was so steeped in tradition and ceremony was pointless. He nailed his famous 95 Theses to the Church door in Wittenburg as a protest to delineate the abuses of the Church.
Luther believed that the truth of the gospel was found not in the Church´s rites or rituals but in a simple faith as the Apostle wrote about in Romans, "the just shall live by faith"
As a result, his protests earned him only scorn and ridicule for awhile at least. Eventually, many would side with him and become known for their protests as Protestants. Those who followed his voluminous writings proudly wore the label "Lutheran".
Luther believed that the truth of the gospel was found not in the Church´s rites or rituals but in a simple faith as the Apostle wrote about in Romans, "the just shall live by faith"; nothing more and nothing less! God enabled people to believe and receive forgiveness directly from God rather than through a conduit or vehicle like a priest or rite. Today, it is hard to conceive of what courage it took to stand up for these simple truths. Yet, Europeans by the thousands flocked to his profound writings and teaching.
Equally provocative was the idea that Scripture alone was sufficient to know the truth about God. The Bible was a reflection of the perfection of God and His willingness to shed His grace on mankind. Sola Scriptura, "Scripture alone" was the clarion call of the Reformation.
Luther was a prolific writer! Multiple volumes of sermons, theological commentaries, even a couple of hymns still sung in most Protestant churches today survive and are considered de rigueur in learned theological circles.
Later in Luther´s life Europeans were faced no longer with just choices between Catholicism and Lutheranism. There were also churches and theologians following John Calvin´s teaching. Lutheranism quickly spread to most of Europe, especially, Poland, Russia, Lithuania, Austria, France, Holland and others. So influential were his teachings throughout Europe that soon Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and other countries had made it their "state church".
Lutherans flooded the New World starting as early as 1619 when the first Lutherans celebrated Christmas at Hudson Bay and the first permanent settlement broke ground at Manhattan Island in 1623. Almost three-quarters were from Germany and most went to Pennsylvania. Most of the others were Swedes. In 1748, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg (1711-1787) had organized Lutherans in New York, New Jersey and Maryland. Since most of young America spoke English the Lutheran Germans and Swedes initially found it difficult to integrate. Churches of all types during this period were often organized based on the "old country" ways and many had to adopt ways that could accommodate the huge influx of new Germans and Swedes, mostly Lutherans.
After years of organizing and assimilating many Lutheran groups were divided into Synods in the eastern and western United States reflecting cultural, language and geographical differences. By 1870, estimates suggest there were nearly 400,000 Lutherans in America.
As in nearly every other case, Lutherans were split by the Civil War. Many churches and divisions left the General Synod and created the General Council. All the while more Lutherans were immigrating as the churches tried to assimilate them. During the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, nearly 2 million Scandinavian Lutherans arrived.
The huge influx created many subdivisions and in a sense, made it more difficult to follow Lutheranism. During the early 1900s many churches and synods began to join together and eventuated in the most popular Lutheran denominations we see today in the U.S.
To Lutherans, the Scriptures are inspired and the rule and standard for faith and practice. They also teach and follow three major Creeds of the Christian Church; the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. Helpful also are the Augsburg Confession, Luther´s two catechisms, the Schmalkald Articles and the Formula of Concord.
Baptism of infants and adults and the Lord´s Supper are practiced. For Lutherans however, the sacraments aren´t merely symbols of greater truths. Rather, they bestow forgiveness on the repentant. In official Lutheran terms, the Lord´s Supper consists not of merely bread and wine but Christ´s body and blood are present "in, with and under" the elements.
Local churches are grouped together in synods made of up pastors and laymen elected by their fellow members. Larger groupings, based usually on geography, include districts and conferences held annually.
Most Lutherans in American fall generally under the following denomination labels: Apostolic Lutheran Church of American, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Synod, the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.
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