Lutheran History



The Lutheran Church is named after Martin Luther who initiated the Protestant Reformation. Luther was born in Eisleben, Germany, November 10, 1483. He was a troubled young man who became first a monk and then a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. He sought with great earnestness to do according to all the teachings of his church in the hope that he might find peace for his soul and the assurance that he was just before God. He fasted much and tortured himself in various ways. The Catholic Church at the time taught that this was especially pleasing in the sight of God. But these things gave him no peace or assurance.

A spiritual turning point for him came when praying and studying the Bible. He read. "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17; Gal 3:11). He realized that, contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church -- we are not saved by what we do, but by what Jesus Christ did. We are saved, not by what we do, but by our belief and acceptance of Grace. We are justified by faith, not by works. As the ramifications of this dawned on Luther, his troubled soul found peace and his mission was begun.

Luther now continued the study of the Word of God with renewed vigor and became increasingly distressed on how the Roman Catholic Church had departed from the teachings of the Bible on many points. The Catholic Church taught that tradition and the decrees of popes and church councils had the same authority as the Bible. Luther began to see the Bible as the sole authority of Christianity and that traditions and decrees were the inventions of people, not of God.

At this time, there were a large number of Catholic traditions and practices that had no basis in Biblical Scriptures. Most distressing was the Catholic Church's practice of selling "indulgences". People could purchase these indulgences and buy forgiveness of their sins, either for a specified period or for life, according to the amount paid. The Catholic Church taught that we become just before God, not by faith in Christ alone and through grace alone, but by faith and words of merit which man must do. It taught that prayers should be made to the saints, especially to Virgin Mary, and not the triune God alone. The church had the doctrine of purgatory, which is found nowhere in the Bible, and the doctrine of the surplus merits of the saints. The Catholic Church taught that priests had a privileged relationship with God, insisted that the Bible and worship services be held in Latin, and would pray on the people's behalf. Even the practice of celibacy among priests has no biblical basis, and was simply a tradition that arose in the early church hundreds of years after Christ's death and resurrection.

By October 31, 1517 Luther was ready to publicly challenge the Catholic Church. He nailed The Ninety-Five Theses, (or ninety-five points that he was willing to debate) upon the door of the castle church at Wittenberg. At the time, the church doors were often used as a public bulletin board, and as he was a faculty member at the local college an invitation for public debate was not uncommon. It should be pointed out that Luther did not intend to break with the Roman Catholic Church. His intention was only to cleanse it of its teachings and practices that lacked basis in the Bible. Instead he began the great Protestant Reformation.

Martin Luther was not the first to challenge the Catholic Church. But he was the first to do so without being burned at the stake for heresy. He also had a lot of help in spreading his ideas from Gutenburg's movable type printing press which allowed documents to be mass-produced and distributed with a speed that was never seen before.

Luther was summoned by the Catholic Church to Worms to account for defying the Roman Catholic Church. At the Diet of Worms, April, 1521, Luther was commanded to retract or (it was well understood) he would be killed. His answer was, "Unless I am convinced by Scripture or other clear proofs, I neither can or dare retract anything, for my conscience is bound in God's Word." It is said that he took a Bible, threw it to the ground, stood on it and continued, "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise; so help me God, Amen".

It was not very long before there came to be divisions among the Protestants. Differences in interpretation of the Scriptures developed, especially in the matter of the sacraments. Those who agreed with Luther's interpretations came to be called Lutherans. (This name was first used by the enemies of Luther.) The other Protestants have come to bear the general name, Reformed. Among the Reformed there are various denominations, such as Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, Episcopal, and Methodist.

The confessions (symbols) formulated in the earliest centuries of the Christian Church are the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athenasian Creed. The Lutheran Church holds these confessions in common with various other Christian denominations. The specifically Lutheran confessions are the Augsburg Confession and Luther's Catechism. All the confessional documents of the Lutheran Church are found in a volume called The Book of Concord.