Lutherans follow the teachings of Martin Luther, an inspiring German 16th century monk and professor who wanted to reform the Roman Catholic Church of its abuses, exploitations and corruption. The Catholic Papacy refused Luther’s reform policies, and the Protestant Reformation was launched. His followers started the Lutheran Church, which is centred on the principle that God freely forgives and saves us because he loves us and therefore regards us as her children. Faith is more than what we believe about God, Jesus and the church. Faith is how we believe, how we act and how we live from day to day. For Lutherans, Christian is as Christian does. The Luther Rose, his personal seal, was a reminder of this theology to Luther, as it is to us.
Statue of Luther in the Berlin Cathedral
The Protestant Reformation was all about the church reforming itself. And that continues today. The church is always in need of reforming itself to the values of the Gospel and to the truth which is Jesus. That doesn’t make Lutherans perfect, it means that Lutherans are both “saints and sinners” at the same time. Luther called the Bible “the cradle of Christ,” meaning, that the Bible contains Jesus. The Bible is not Jesus nor God, which for Luther would have been bibliolatry. He therefore translated the Bible into German, the common language of the people, so that they could read Scripture and find Jesus for themselves, as we do today.
Luther was a very strong proponent of what he called “The Priesthood of all Believers,” meaning that every Christian is a priest and pastor. Based on his exposition of Philippians 4:4-7, Luther said that every Christian has the responsibility of spreading the Gospel, teaching Christianity, modelling Christ’s way and interceding on behalf of others. Today, the Priesthood means that lay people assist the ordained clergy with many of the duties once relegated to clergy alone, such as preaching, reading the Scripture lessons, administering sacraments.
Lastly, Luther believed all Christians, not just the priests, should participate in the worship service by singing hymns, chanting the liturgy and praying the prayers. So, he composed many hymns in German, translated existing hymns from Latin to German, or wrote new words to existing tunes. A Mighty Fortress is our God became the battle cry of the Reformation. From Heaven Above was a popular bar tune to which Luther wrote new words. Today, many Lutherans enjoying singing old favorites, as well as contemporary songs to reflect a new generation of Christians.
Today, the Lutheran Church is still the state church of Germany. It and the Church of England are the two largest Protestant churches worldwide, and in many countries, are in full communion. As an active member of the World Council of Churches, Lutherans are open, inclusive, and committed to a working unity, not divisions, amongst denominations and religions. Social justice is a high priority, including on gender issues and for refugees. To learn more, explore Zion’s connections below.