Lutheran Church


General Information

Lutheranism is the branch of Protestantism that generally follows the teachings of the 16th century reformer Martin Luther. The Lutheran movement diffused after 1517 from Saxony through many other German territories into Scandinavia. In the 18th century it spread to America and, thereafter, into many nations of the world, and it has come to number more than 70 million adherents. As such, it lays claim to being the largest non Roman Catholic body in the Western Christian church.

Lutheranism appeared in Europe after a century of reformist stirrings in Italy under Girolamo Savonarola, in Bohemia under John Huss, and in England under the Lollards. The personal experience of the troubled monk Luther gave shape to many of the original impulses of the Protestant Reformation and colors Lutheranism to the present. Like many people of conscience in his day, Luther was disturbed by immorality and corruption in the Roman Catholic church, but he concentrated more on reform of what he thought was corrupt teaching. After he experienced what he believed to be the stirrings of Grace, he proclaimed a message of divine promise and denounced the human merits through which, he feared, most Catholics thought they were earning the favor of God.

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Lutheranism soon became more than the experience of Luther, but it never deviated from his theme that people are made right with God sola gratia and sola fide - that is, only by the divine initiative of grace as received through God's gift of faith. Because Luther came across his discoveries by reading the Bible, he also liked to add to his motto the exhortation sola scriptura, which means that Lutherans are to use the Bible alone as the source and norm for their teachings.

The Lutheran movement gained popularity quickly in Germany at a time of rising nationalism among people who resented sending their wealth to Rome. The early Lutherans were strongly based in the universities and used their learning to spread the faith among an international community of scholars. By 1530 they were formulating their own Confessions of Faith and proceeding independently amid the non Lutheran reform parties that proliferated across most of northern Europe. By 1580 and through the next century, these confessions became increasingly rigid scholastic expressions, designed to define the church in formal terms. Ever since, Lutheranism has been known as a doctrinal and even dogmatic church.

Lutheranism did not and could not live only by the teaching of its professors. In the late 17th century its more gentle side, which grew out of the piety of Luther, appeared in the form of a movement called Pietism. Nominally orthodox in belief and practice, the Pietists stressed Bible reading, circles of prayer and devotion, and the works of love. This pietism was somewhat unstable; in its downgrading of doctrine it helped prepare Lutherans for the age of Enlightenment, when many leaders and some of the faithful turned to rationalism. Subsequently, theology under Lutheran influence has often taken on a radical character, especially in Germany. As a result, there is often a considerable gap between intellectual expressions of Lutheranism and the liturgy and preaching of its congregations.

From the beginning, Lutheranism had to wrestle with the problem of its relation to civil authorities. Although Luther was a rebel against papal teaching, he was docile about reforming the civil order and rejected radical revolts by the peasants (Peasants' War). Fearing anarchy more than authoritarianism, the Lutherans gravitated to biblical teachings that stressed the authority of the state more than the civil freedom of its citizens. Most of them were content not to separate church and state, and in the Peace of Augsburg (1555) approved the principle that the ruler determined the faith of the ruled. Later Lutherans have enthusiastically embraced republican and democratic government as applications of the principle that God is active in different ways through the two realms of civil and churchly authority. Many German Lutherans were silent or cooperative, however, when the Nazi regime took over the church; only the Confessing Church, led by Martin Niemoller, opposed the regime outright.

Lutherans have been more ready than many other Christians to see the permanence of evil in the powers of the created and fallen world, that is, the world under the influence of sin. Consequently, they have put more of their energies into works of welfare and charity - into orphanages, hospitals, and deaconesses' movements - than into social schemes to transform the world.

In Europe most Lutheran churches are episcopal, that is, ruled by bishops, and the churches of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden are established. In North America and elsewhere Lutherans prefer congregational and synodical forms of government, in which local churches link together for common purposes. In the United States, Lutherans have united in three main bodies: the Lutheran Church in America (membership, 2.9 million), the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod (2.6 million), and the American Lutheran Church (2.3 million). The American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, and a third group, The Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches, united in 1987 to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

Lutheranism is generally friendly to the Ecumenical Movement, and with some exceptions, Lutheran churches have participated in worldwide gatherings of Christians across confessional and denominational boundaries. Lutherans consider themselves to be both evangelical and catholic because they have points in common with the other Protestant churches on the one hand, and with Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican Christians on the other. In the ecumenical age, however, they have kept a very distinct identity through their general loyalty to the teachings of 16th century Lutheranism.

Martin E Marty

E T / M Bachmann, Lutheran Churches in the World: A Handbook (1989); C Bergendoff, The Church of the Lutheran Reformation (1967); E Lueker, ed., Lutheran Cyclopedia (1987).

The Lutheran Tradition

Advanced Information

This term, or "Lutheranism," is employed to refer to the doctrine and practices authoritative in the Lutheran Churches and as a broad term for those churches throughout the world in general. The name "Lutheran" was not self chosen but was initially applied by the enemies of Martin Luther in the early 1520s. Only when he felt that the identification was understood to mean recognition of the truth of his teaching did Luther suggest, "If you are convinced that Luther's teaching is in accord with the Gospel,...then you should not discard Luther so completely, lest with him you discard also his teaching, which you nevertheless recognize as Christ's teaching."

This teaching of Luther, forged from his discovery that the righteousness of God is not a righteousness that judges and demands but the righteousness given by God in grace, found its systematic expression in the formularies incorporated in the Book of Concord. All these documents, with the exception of the Formula of Concord, were written between 1529 and 1537 by Luther and Philip Melanchthon. They reflect the emphasis on justification by grace and the correction of abuses in the life of the church while at the same time "conserving" the church's catholic heritage (through explicit commitment to the ancient creeds, traditional forms of worship, church government, etc.).

During the years following Luther's death in 1546, theological conflicts increasingly plagued his followers. The Formula of Concord, composed of the Epitome of the Articles in Dispute and the Solid Declaration of Some Articles of the Augsburg Confession, sought to resolve those disputes in terms of the authentic teaching of Luther. Subscription to these "symbolical" writings of the Book of Concord as true expositions of the Holy Scriptures has historically marked the doctrinal positions of Lutheranism.


The distinctive doctrines of Lutheran theology have commonly been related to the classical leitmotifs of the Reformation: sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide.

The theology of Lutheranism is first a theology of the Word. Its principle of sola Scriptura affirms the Bible as the only norm of Christian doctrine. The Scripture is the causa media by which man learns to know God and his will; the Word is the one and the only source of theology. Lutheranism pledges itself "to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments as the pure and clear fountain of Israel, which is the only norm according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated" (Formula of Concord, Epitome).To be sure, the authority of Scripture had been emphasized prior to Luther and the Reformation. However, when Lutheranism referred to the Bible as the divine Word, brought to man through the apostles and prophets, it spoke with a new conviction regarding the primacy of the Word. Luther recognized that the authority of Scripture was valid even where it was opposed by pope, council, or tradition.

The Lutheran understanding of this principle should be distinguished from bibliolatry. Historic Lutheranism viewed Scripture as the organic foundation of faith. It is the source of theology in an instrumental sense. It is not the cause of the being of theology; that would truly be a deification or worship of a book. Rather, God is the first cause of theology; he is the principium essendi, its foundation, its beginning, and its end. The Scripture is the principium cognoscendi, for from Scripture theology is known and understood. Furthermore, the Lutheran view of the Bible is to be distinguished from a legalistic orientation. Christ is at the center of the Bible. Essential to understanding the Word of God is accepting the promises of the gospel by faith. If this faith is lacking, the Scriptures cannot be correctly understood.

The second doctrinal distinctive of Lutheranism is the doctrine of justification. According to Luther there are two kinds of righteousness, an external righteousness and an inner righteousness. External righteousness, or civil righteousness, may be acquired through just conduct or good deeds. However, inner righteousness consists of the purity and perfection of the heart. Consequently, it cannot be attained through external deeds. This righteousness is of God and comes as a gift of his fatherly grace. This is the source of justification.

The ground for justification is Christ, who by his death made satisfaction for the sins of mankind. The Apology of the Augsburg Confession defines justification as meaning "to absolve a guilty man and pronounce him righteous, and to do so on account of someone else's righteousness, namely, Christ's." Thus God acquits man of all his sins, and he does this not because man is innocent; rather God justifies us and declares man to be righteous for Christ's sake, because of his righteousness, his obedience to God's law, and his suffering and death. When God justifies, he not only forgives sins, but he also reckons to man Christ's perfect righteousness. God declares sinners to be righteous, apart from human merit or work, for the sake of Christ (forensic justification).

Related to this teaching is the third significant hallmark of Lutheranism: sola fide. The means whereby justification accrues to the individual is faith. The gospel, as Lutheranism confessed it, made faith the only way by which man could receive God's grace. In the medieval scholastic tradition theologians spoke of faith as something that could be acquired through instruction and preaching (fides acquisita). This was distinguished from infused faith (fides infusa), which is a gift of grace and implies adherence to all revealed truth. Lutheranism repudiated this distinction. The faith which comes by preaching coincides with that which is justifying; it is wholly a gift of God. Justifying faith is not merely a historical knowledge of the content of the gospel; it is acceptance of the merits of Christ. Faith, therefore, is trust in the mercy of God for the sake of his Son.

Lutheranism has persistently refused to see faith itself as a "work". Faith is receptivity, receiving Christ and all that he has done. It is not man's accomplishment that effects his justification before God. Faith is instead that which accepts God's verdict of justification: "Faith does not justify because it is so good a work and so God - pleasing a virtue, but because it lays hold on and accepts the merit of Christ in the promise of the holy Gospel" (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration).

The article of justification by grace through faith challenged the Roman Catholic tradition, which asserted that faith was pleasing to God only if it were accompanied by good works and perfected by love. At the Council of Trent in 1545 the Lutheran view was condemned and the medieval Roman Church reiterated its doctrine that justification is a state of grace in which human good works have merit. For Lutheranism, faith and works certainly cannot be separated; however, they must be distinguished. The righteousness of faith refers to man in his relation to God (coram Deo). The righteousness of good works refers to man in relation to his neighbor (coram hominibus).

These must not be confused so as to intimate that man will seek to become just in the sight of God on the strength of his good deeds, nor in such a way that he will attempt to conceal sin with grace. Thus, with respect to justification strictly speaking, good works must be clearly distinguished. But faith cannot be apart from works. Where there is faith in Christ, love and good works also follow.

In one way or another the three fundamental doctrines of Lutheranism, sola Scriptura, sola gratia, sola fide, determine the shape of other distinctive teachings. For example, the position of Lutheranism on man's free will is understood in the light of the doctrine of justification. Man is completely without a free will with respect to the "spiritual sphere" (that which concerns salvation). Salvation depends exclusively on the omnipotent divine will of grace. Man does not have freedom to do the good in the spiritual sense. Similarly, the Lutheran understanding of the Lord's Supper must be viewed in light of the principle of sola Scriptura. Lutheranism has consistently battled against every denial of the real and essential presence of Christ's body and blood in the Supper.

An important element of Lutheran biblical interpretation is that one takes words of command and promise literally unless there is some compelling reason for not doing so. If the words of institution at the Supper were to be taken figuratively, simply because they appear to conflict with reason or common sense (e.g., the Reformed axiom of the finite being incapable of the infinite), one could do so with any command or promise of God. Thus, Lutheranism has insisted on the doctrine of the "real presence" on the basis of Christ's plain words. Also, the Lutheran view of grace contributed to the retention of infant baptism. Baptism expresses the participation of the Christian in the death and resurrection of Christ. Baptism, like the gospel, is powerful to confer the very faith it calls for with its promises, and in each case the Holy Spirit works faith through the instruments of his choosing, namely baptism and the gospel. In Lutheran understanding it is no more difficult for him to work faith in infants through the gospel promise attached to the water of baptism than in adults alienated from God through the proclamation of the gospel in preaching.


These doctrines of Lutheranism were subject to a variegated history in the centuries following the Reformation era. In the seventeenth century they were elaborated in a scholastic mold. Lutheran orthodoxy, whose classical period began about the year 1600, was an extension of the tradition represented by the Lutheran confessional writings. It was, however, profoundly influenced by the neo Aristotelianism which had secured a foothold in the German universities. This German scholastic philosophy accented the intellectual strain which characterized Lutheran orthodoxy and prompted a more pronounced scientific and metaphysical treatment of theological questions. However, scholastic methodology did not lead to the surrender of Lutheran emphasis on the Bible.

The dogmatic works of the orthodox period were based on the principle of sola Scriptura. There was an effort to systematize an objective form of theology (theology defined as a "teaching about God and divine things"). Revelation, as codified in the Bible, provided the point of departure for the orthodox theologians. The chief representatives of this period of Lutheranism included Johann Gerhard, Nikolaus Hunnius, Abraham Calov, and David Hollaz.

The period of Lutheran orthodox gave way to the pietist movement in the latter part of the seventeenth century. Pietism was a reaction to what was perceived as an arid intellectualism in the orthodox theologians. Philipp Jakob Spener's Pia desideria called for a reform movement within Lutheranism. According to Spener, experience is the basis of all certainty. Therefore, the personal experience of the pious is the ground of certainty for theological knowledge. This led to the pietist critique of the metaphysical questions treated by the orthodox fathers as well as their traditional philosophical underpinnings. For the pietist Lutherans inner spiritual phenomena and individual experiences elicited the greatest interest. Since Spener and his followers assumed that theological knowledge could not be acquired apart from the experience of regeneration, their theological expositions dealt mainly with empirical religious events.

In the eighteenth century theological rationalism appeared in Germany. Christian Wolff, utilizing the Leibnizian principle of "sufficient reason," argued that learning must be based on clear and distinct concepts and that nothing should be set forth without proof. Wolff's thought had a great impact on theological activity. Harmony between faith and reason was assumed, and the natural knowledge of God led to the idea of special revelation while the rational proofs for the truth of Scripture demonstrated that the Bible is the source of this revelation. While Wolff intended to defend traditional doctrine, the consequence of his method was the acceptance of reason as a final authority. This conclusion was extended by Johann Semler, who applied a historicocritical method to the Bible and inserted it totally into the framework of human development.

Many Lutherans saw the influence of rationalism behind the Prussian Union of 1817. Frederick William III announced the union of the Lutherans and the Reformed into one congregation at his court in celebration of the three hundredth anniversary of the Reformation and appealed for similar union throughout Prussia. The union was the impetus for a revival of Lutheran confessionalism which reacted to an increasing doctrinal indifference in some quarters of German Lutheranism as well as a growing interest in biblical criticism that threatened to remove the doctrinal foundations of Luther's church. Prominent figures in the effort to restore historical Lutheranism were C P Caspari, E W Hengstenberg, and C F W Walther. Walther joined an emigration of Saxons to the United States in 1838 to escape the theological legacy of rationalism and the union.

Apart from Germany, where two thirds of the population had accepted Lutheranism by the end of the sixteenth century, the expansion of Lutheranism through Sweden, Denmark, and Norway left national churches that have endured in strength. From these nations Lutherans migrated to the United States and Canada. The earliest Lutherans in America can be traced back to the seventeenth century. In Delaware, Swedish Lutherans had settled as early as 1638. In Georgia, almost a hundred years later, a group of refugee Lutherans from Salzburg established residence. Colonies of Lutherans also settled in upper New York and in Pennsylvania by the time of the Revolution. Henry Melchoir Muhlenberg organized the first synod of Lutherans on American soil.

Contemporary Lutheranism seems to have entered on an age of unification. The various waves of immigrants to America led to a proliferation of Lutheran bodies. However, there have been a number of mergers between these groups, which are now mainly included in the Lutheran Church in America (1962), the American Lutheran Church (1960), and the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod (1847). The Lutheran World Federation, founded in 1947. cultivates world unity and mutual assistance among its fifty or more member churches. Lutheranism throughout the world constitutes the largest of the churches that have come out of the Reformation, numbering some seventy million members, of whom between nine and ten million live in the United States and Canada.

J F Johnson
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W Elert, The Structure of Lutheranism; E W Gritsch and R W Jenson, Lutheranism; B Hagglund, History of Theology; C P Krauth, The Conservative Reformation and Its Theology; R D Preus, The Theology of Post - Reformation Lutheranism; T G Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord; R C Wolf, ed., Documents of Lutheran Unity in America; E C Nelson, ed., The Lutherans in North America.


General Information

Lutheranism is a major Protestant denomination, which originated as a 16th-century movement led by Martin Luther. Luther, a German Augustinian monk and professor of theology at the University of Wittenberg in Saxony (Sachsen), originally had as his goal the reformation of the Western Christian church. Because Luther and his followers were excommunicated by the pope, however, Lutheranism developed in a number of separate national and territorial churches, thus initiating the breakup of the organizational unity of Western Christendom.

The term Lutheran was deplored by Luther, and the church originally called itself the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession or simply the Evangelical Church. Scandinavian Lutherans adopted the names of their countries for their churches (for example, the Church of Sweden). As a result of the missionary movement of the 18th and 19th centuries, Lutheranism has become a worldwide communion of Christians and the largest Protestant denomination in the world, with about 80 million members.

Doctrine and Practices

Lutheranism affirms the ultimate authority of the Word of God (as found in the Bible) in matters of faith and Christian life and emphasizes Christ as the key to the understanding of the Bible.

Salvation by Faith

Salvation, according to Lutheran teaching, does not depend on worthiness or merit but is a gift of God's sovereign grace. All human beings are considered sinners and, because of original sin, are in bondage to the powers of evil and thus unable to contribute to their liberation (see Justification). Lutherans believe that faith, understood as trust in God's steadfast love, is the only appropriate way for human beings to respond to God's saving initiative. Thus, "salvation by faith alone" became the distinctive and controversial slogan of Lutheranism.

Opponents claimed that this position failed to do justice to the Christian responsibility to do good works, but Lutherans have replied that faith must be active in love and that good works follow from faith as a good tree produces good fruit.


The Lutheran church defines itself as "the assembly of believers among which the Gospel is preached and the Holy Sacraments are administered according to the Gospel" (Augsburg Confession, VII). From the beginning, therefore, the Bible was central to Lutheran worship, and the sacraments were reduced from the traditional seven to baptism and the Lord's Supper (see Eucharist), because, according to the Lutheran reading of the Scriptures, only these two were instituted by Christ (see Sacrament). Worship was conducted in the language of the people (not in Latin as had been the Roman Catholic tradition), and preaching was stressed in the divine service. Lutheranism did not radically change the structure of the medieval mass, but its use of vernacular language enhanced the importance of the sermons, which were based on the exposition of the Scriptures, and encouraged congregational participation in worship, especially through the singing of the liturgy and of hymns. Luther himself contributed to this development by writing popular hymns (for instance, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God").

In the Lutheran celebration of the Eucharist, the elements of bread and wine are given to all communicants, whereas Roman Catholics had allowed the wine only to priests. In contrast to other Protestants, particularly the Anabaptists, however, Lutherans affirm the real bodily presence of Christ "in, with, and under" the elements of bread and wine at the Lord's Supper. Christ is sacramentally present for the communicant in the bread and the wine because of the promise he gave at the institution of Holy Communion, when he said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood" (Matthew 26:26-28).


Lutheranism affirms the traditional practice of infant baptism as a sacrament in which God's grace reaches out to newborn children. For Lutherans, baptism signifies God's unconditional love, which is independent of any intellectual, moral, or emotional achievements on the part of human beings.

Christian Life For Lutheranism

Saints do not constitute a superior class of Christians but are sinners saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ; every Christian is both saint and sinner. The Lutheran doctrine of the priesthood of all believers is related to baptism, by which all Christians, both male and female, are made priests of God, serving him during their entire life in their chosen vocations, all of which are to be understood as equal opportunities for discipleship. The office of the pastor is a special office in Lutheranism based on a call from God and from a congregation of Christians. Unlike Roman Catholic priests, Lutheran clergy may marry.

Doctrinal Texts

Although Lutherans accept the canonical books of the Bible as "the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be judged" (Formula of Concord), they also recommend the books of the Apocrypha of the Old Testament for Christian edification and have traditionally included them in vernacular versions of the Bible. Lutherans accept the authority of the three ecumenical creeds (Apostles', Nicene, Athanasian) and use the first two regularly in worship services. The special doctrinal statements of Lutheranism are Luther's Schmalkald Articles (1537), Small Catechism (1529), and Large Catechism (1529); Melanchthon's Augsburg Confession (1530), Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531), and Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope (1529); and the Formula of Concord (1577), which was written by a commission of theologians after the deaths of the original reformers. Together with the creeds, these documents constitute The Book of Concord, adopted by Lutheran princes and cities in 1580. Only the creeds, the Augsburg Confession, and Luther's two catechisms, however, have been recognized by all Lutheran churches.

Church Organization and Government

Because of their origin in the 16th century, the older European Lutheran churches are closely tied to their respective governments as established churches, either exclusively, as in the Scandinavian countries, or in a parallel arrangement with Roman Catholicism, as in Germany. (In both situations other religious groups have complete freedom of worship but not the same support and supervision from the government.) In non-European countries, Lutheran churches are voluntary religious organizations. A uniform system of church government has never developed in Lutheranism; congregational, presbyterian, and episcopal structures all exist, although a tendency has emerged in the 20th century to give the title of bishop to elected leaders of judicatories (synods, districts, churches).

History and Influence

The early development of Lutheranism was greatly influenced by political events. Holy Roman Emperor Charles V was unable to undertake the forceful suppression of Lutheranism because the empire was being threatened by the Turks. Despite the Edict of Worms (1521), which placed the Lutherans under imperial ban, the movement continued to spread. Intermittent religious wars followed, ending in the Peace of Augsburg (1555), which stipulated that the religion of the ruler of each territory within the Holy Roman Empire was to be the religion of his subjects, thus in effect sanctioning the Lutheran churches and also establishing the territorial princes as primates of their churches. The Formula of Concord (1577), prepared by theologians to resolve disputes among Lutherans, was signed by political leaders to ensure Lutheran unity at a time when renewed religious warfare threatened. The survival of Lutheranism after the Thirty Years' War was the result of the intervention of the Lutheran Swedish king Gustav II Adolph and of Roman Catholic France on the side of the Protestants. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) brought an end to the religious wars in Europe.

Beginning in the late 17th century, the reform movement called Pietism, which stressed individual conversion and a devout way of life, revitalized Lutheranism in Germany and spread to other countries. Lutheran theology, during the 18th century, reflected the rationalism of the Enlightenment. During the 19th century, the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, who emphasized universal religious experience, exercised a major influence on liberal Lutheran theologians. At the same time, idealism, the dominant movement of modern German philosophy, had a profound effect on Lutheran theological thought. In the 20th century, the neoorthodoxy of the Swiss theologian Karl Barth and existentialism have been the most prominent theological developments.

The political ascendancy of Prussia among the German states by the early 19th century led to the establishment (1817) of the Church of the Prussian Union, which united Calvinists and millions of German Lutherans into one church. This development was bitterly opposed by a large number of Lutherans, some of whom broke away to establish a separate church. The crisis of German politics in the 20th century gravely affected German Lutheranism. Hitler's attempt to control German churches led to the split of the German Lutheran Church and to the internment of some Lutherans (such as Martin Niem÷ller) in concentration camps and the execution of others (notably the theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer). Lutheran leaders in Norway and Denmark took major roles in the resistance to Nazi occupation of their countries, and the German Confessing Church, which had resisted Hitler, made an important contribution to the reconstruction of West Germany (now part of the united Federal Republic of Germany) after World War II.

Lutheranism in America

Lutheranism arrived in America with the early European settlers. In 1625 some Dutch, German, and Scandinavian Lutherans settled in New Amsterdam (now New York City). In 1638 another early Lutheran settlement was founded by Swedes in what is now Delaware. At the beginning of the 18th century German Lutherans settled in large numbers in Pennsylvania. In 1742 Pastor Henry Melchior Muhlenberg arrived from Germany and soon founded (1748) the first Lutheran synod in North America. After the American Revolution (1775-1783), each successive group of Lutheran immigrants founded its own churches and synods and conducted its services in the language of its country of origin. Because of the large numbers of immigrants to the United States and Canada in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the integration of Lutherans into North American society went slowly, and Lutheranism was divided into numerous German, Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, and Slovak groups. Following World War I (1914-1918), however, unification and integration proceeded rapidly. The process accelerated after World War II (1939-1945), and by the early 1980s mergers had consolidated most Lutherans in the United States and Canada into five major bodies: the Lutheran Church in America (LCA), Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS), the American Lutheran Church (ALC), the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (AELC). In 1988 the LCA, ALC, and AELC merged after five years of preparatory work, forming the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). In the early 1990s the ELCA reported a membership of more than 5.2 million in about 11,000 churches. Membership in the LCMS was about 2.6 million, and in the WELS about 417,000. Lutheranism is the third largest Protestant denomination in the United States.

In 1997 the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America agreed to share full communion with three other Protestant denominations - the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Reformed Church in America. The agreement meant that the churches could exchange clergy and that members could worship and receive sacraments at the other churches.

Canadian Churches

The Lutheran churches in the United States have Canadian counterparts. The newly formed Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, composed of wings of the former LCA and ALC churches, reported membership of 199,600 in the early 1990s. The Lutheran Church-Canada was originally a member of the LCMS but became autonomous in 1988. Reported membership is about 79,400.

World Lutheranism

Although a majority of the world's Lutherans still live in the traditionally Lutheran countries of central and northern Europe, Lutheranism has been growing most rapidly in Africa and Asia. Indeed, the only country outside of Europe where a majority of the population is Lutheran is Namibia in southern Africa. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), headquartered in Geneva, coordinates the activities of almost all Lutheran churches in the world. It oversees ecumenical relations, theological studies, and world service and is guided by an international executive committee. Most Lutheran churches are also members of the World Council of Churches.

Cultural Influence

Lutheranism has always been concerned with the cultural and intellectual aspects of the Christian faith. Its influence on music through such composers as Johann Sebastian Bach, Dietrich Buxtehude, Michael Praetorius, and Heinrich SchŘtz has been as profound as it was on philosophy. Thinkers of Lutheran background, such as Immanuel Kant, J. G. Fichte, G. W. F. Hegel, and S°ren Kierkegaard, articulated their ideas in dialogue with and often in opposition to the Lutheran tradition. Lutheranism has also produced a number of notable biblical scholars, such as D. F. Strauss and Albert Schweitzer, and theologians, such as Albrecht Ritschl, Adolf von Harnack, Rudolf Otto, Rudolf Bultmann, and Paul Tillich.

George Wolfgang Forell


Catholic Information

The religious belief held by the oldest and in Europe the most numerous of the Protestant sects, founded by the Wittenberg reformer, Martin Luther. The term Lutheran was first used by his opponents during the Leipzig Disputation in 1519, and afterwards became universally prevalent. Luther preferred the designation "Evangelical", and today the usual title of the sect is "Evangelical Lutheran Church". In Germany, where the Lutherans and the Reformed have united (since 1817), the name Lutheran has been abandoned, and the state Church is styled the Evangelical or the Evangelical United.


In doctrine official Lutheranism is part of what is called orthodox Protestantism, since it agrees with the Catholic and the Greek Churches in accepting the authority of the Scriptures and of the three most ancient creeds (the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed). Besides these formul├Ž of belief, Lutheranism acknowledges six specific confessions which distinguish it from other churches:

the unaltered Augsburg Confession (1530),

the Apology of the Augsburg Confession (1531),

Luther's Large Catechism (1529),

Luther's Catechism for Children (1529),

the Articles of Smalkald (1537), and

the Form of Concord (1577).

These nine symbolical books (including the three Creeds) constitute what is known as the "Book of Concord", which was first published at Dresden in 1580 by order of Elector Augustus of Saxony (see FAITH, PROTESTANT CONFESSIONS OF). In these confessions the Scriptures are declared to be the only rule of faith. The extent of the Canon is not defined, but the bibles in common use among Lutherans have been generally the same as those of other Protestant denominations (see CANON OF THE HOLY SCRIPTURES). The symbols and the other writings not contained in Scripture do not possess decisive authority, but merely show how the Scriptures were understood and explained at particular times by the leading theologians (Form of Concord).

The chief tenet of the Lutheran creed, that which Luther called "the article of the standing and falling Church", has reference to the justification of sinful man. Original sin is explained as a positive and total depravity of human nature, which renders all the acts of the unjustified, even those of civil righteousness, sinful and displeasing to God. Justification, which is not an internal change, but an external, forensic declaration by which God imputes to the creature the righteousness of Christ, comes only by faith, which is the confidence that one is reconciled to God through Christ. Good works are necessary as an exercise of faith, and are rewarded, not by justification (which they presuppose), but by the fulfilment of the Divine promises (Apology Aug. Conf.).

Other distinctive doctrines of the Lutheran Church are:

consubstantiation (although the symbols do not use this term), i.e. the real, corporeal presence of Christ's Body and Blood during the celebration of the Lord's Supper, in, with, and under the substance of bread and wine, in a union which is not hypostatic, nor of mixture, nor of local inclusion, but entirely transcendent and mysterious;

the omnipresence of the Body of Christ, which is differently explained by the commentators of the Symbolical Books.

Since the official formul├Ž of faith claim no decisive authority for themselves, and on many points are far from harmonious, the utmost diversity of opinion prevails among Lutherans. Every shade of belief may be found among them, from the orthodox, who hold fast to the confessions, to the semi-infidel theologians, who deny the authority of the Scriptures.


Lutheranism dates from 31 October, 1517, when Luther affixed his theses to the church door of the castle of Wittenberg. Although he did not break with the Catholic Church until three years later, he had already come substantially to his later views on the plan of salvation. The new teachings, however underwent a great change after Luther's return from Wartburg (1521). Before he died (18 Feb., 1546), his teachings had been propagated in many states of Germany in Poland, in the Baltic Provinces, in Hungary, transylvania, the Netherlands, Denmark and Scandinavia. From these European countries Lutheranism has been carried by emigration to the New World, and in the United States it ranks among the leading Protestant denominations.

(1) The Lutherans in Germany

(a) First Period: From the appearance of Luther's Theses to the adoption of the Formula of Concord (1517-80)

Favoured by the civil rulers, Lutheranism spread rapidly in Northern Germany. After the Diet of Speyer (1526) the Elector of Saxony and other princes established Lutheran state Churches. An alliance between these princes was concluded at Torgau in 1526, and again at Smalkald in 1531. The Protestant League was continually increased by the accession of other states, and a religious war broke out in 1546, which resulted in the Peace of Augsburg (1555). This treaty provided that the Lutherans should retain permanently what they then possessed, but that all officials of ecclesiastical estates, who from that time forth should go over to Protestantism would be deposed and replaced by Catholics. This latter provision, known as the "Reservatum Ecclesiasticum", was very unsatisfactory to the Protestants, and its constant violation was one of the causes that lead up to the Thirty Years War (1618-48).

At the time of the Peace of Augsburg Lutherans predominated in the north of Germany, while the Zwinglians or Reformed were very numerous in the south. Austria, Bavaria, and the territories subject to spiritual lords were Catholic, although many of these afterwards became Protestant. Several attempts were made to effect a reunion. In 1534 Pope Paul III invited the Protestants to a general council. Emperor Charles V arranged conferences between Catholic and Lutheran theologians in 1541, 1546, and 1547. His successor, Ferdinand I (1556-64), and many private individuals such as the Lutheran Frederick Staphylus and Father Contzen, laboured much for the same end. All these efforts, however, proved fruitless. Melanchthon, Crusius, and other Lutheran theologians made formal proposals of union to the Greek Church (1559, 1574, 1578), but nothing came of their overtures. From the beginning bitter hostility existed between the Lutherans and the Reformed. This first appeared in the Sacramentarian controversy between Luther and Zwingli (1524).

They met in conference at Marburg in 1529, but came to no agreement. The hopes of union created by the compromise formula of 1536, known as the Concordia Wittenbergensis, proved delusive. Luther continued to make war on the Zwinglians until his death. The Sacramentarian strife was renewed in 1549 when the Zwinglians accepted Calvin's view of the Real Presence. The followers of Melanchthon, who favoured Calvin's doctrine (Philippists, Crypto-Calvinists), were also furiously denounced by the orthodox Lutherans. During these controversies the State Church of the Palatinate, where Philippism predominated, changed from the Lutheran to the Reformed faith (1560). From the beginning Lutheranism was torn by doctrinal disputes, carried on with the utmost violence and passion. They had reference to the questions of sin and grace, justification by faith, the use of good works, the Lord's Supper, and the Person and work of Christ. The bitterest controversy was the Crypto-Calvinistic. To effect harmony the Form of Concord, the last of the Lutheran symbols, was drawn up in 1577, and accepted by the majority of the state Churches. The document was written in a conciliatory spirit, but it secured the triumph of the orthodox party.

(b) Second Period: From the Adoption of the Form of Concord to the Beginning of the Pietistic Movement (1580-1689)

During this period Lutheranism was engaged in bitter polemics with its neighbours in Germany. Out of these religious discords grew the horrors of the Thirty Years War, which led many persons to desire better relations between the churches. A "charitable colloquy" was held at Thorn in 1645 by Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist theologians, but nothing was accomplished. The proposal of the Lutheran professor, George Calixtus, that the confessions organize into one church with the consensus of the first five centuries as a common basis (Syncretism), aroused a storm of indignation, and, by way of protest, a creed was accepted by the Saxon universities which expressed the views of the most radical school of Lutheran orthodoxy (1655). The Lutheran theologians of this period imitated the disorderly arrangement of Melanchthon's "Loci Theologici", but in spirit they were with few exceptions loyal supporters of the Form of Concord. Although the writings of Luther abound with diatribes against the speculative sciences, his followers early perceived the necessity of philosophy for controversial purposes. Melanchthon developed a system of Aristoteleanism, and it was not long before the Scholastic method, which Luther had so cordially detested, was used by the Evangelical theologians, although the new Scholasticism was utterly different from the genuine system. Lutheran dogmatics became a maze of refined subtleties, and mere logomachy was considered the chief duty of the theologian. The result was a fanatical orthodoxy, whose only activity was heresy-hunting and barren controversy. New attempts were made to unite the Evangelical Churches. Conferences were held in 1586, 1631, and 1661; a plan of union was proposed by the Heidelberg professor Pareus (1615); the Reformed Synod of Charenton (1631) voted to admit Lutheran sponsors in baptism. But again the doctrine of the Lord's Supper proved an obstacle, as the Lutherans would agree to no union that was not based upon perfect dogmatic consensus. By the Peace of Westphalia (1648) the concessions which had been made to the Lutherans in 1555 were extended to the Reformed.

(c) Third Period: From the Beginning of the Pietistic Movement to the Evangelical Union (1689-1817)

Pietism, which was a reaction against the cold and dreary formalism of Lutheran orthodoxy, originated with Philip Spener (1635-1705). In sermons and writings he asserted the claims of personal holiness, and in 1670, while dean at Frankfort-on-the-Main, he began to hold little reunions called collegia pietatis (whence the name Pietist), in which devotional passages of the Scriptures were explained and pious conversation carried on by those present. His follower, August Francke, founded in 1694 the University of Halle, which became a stronghold of Pietism. The strict Lutherans accused the Pietists of heresy, a charge which was vigorously denied, although in fact the new school differed from the orthodox not only in practice, but also in doctrine. The first enthusiasm of the Pietists soon degenerated into fanaticism, and they rapidly lost favour. Pietism had exercised a beneficial influence, but it was followed by the Rationalistic movement, a more radical reaction against orthodoxy, which effected within the Lutheran, as in other Protestant communions, many apostasies from Christian belief. The philosophy of the day and the national literature, then ardently cultivated, had gradually undermined the faith of all classes of the people. The leaders in the Church adjusted themselves to the new conditions, and soon theological chairs and the pulpits were filled by men who rejected not only the dogmatic teaching of the Symbolical Books, but every supernatural element of religion. A notable exception to this growing infidelity was the sect of Herrnhuters or United Brethren, founded in 1722 by Count von Zinzendorf, a follower of the Pietistic school (see BOHEMIAN BRETHREN). The critical state of their churches caused many Protestants to long for a union between the Lutherans and the Reformed. The royal house of Prussia laboured to accomplish a union, but all plans were frustrated by the opposition of the theologians. There were for a time prospects of a reconciliation of the Hanoverian Lutherans with the Catholic Church. Negotiations were carried on between the Catholic Bishop Spinola and the Lutheran representative Molanus (1691). A controversy on the points at issue followed between Bossuet and Leibniz (1692-1701), but no agreement was reached.

(d) Fourth Period: From the Evangelical Union (1817) to the Present

The chief events in the Lutheran Churches in Germany during the nineteenth century were the Evangelical Union and the revival of orthodoxy. During the celebration of the tercentenary of the Reformation in 1817, efforts were made in Prussia to unite Lutherans and Reformed. Frederick William III recommended the use of a common liturgy by the two churches, and this proposal gradually won acceptance. There was much opposition, however, to the service-book published by royal authority in 1822. John Scheibel, deacon in Breslau, refused to accept it, and, being deposed from office, founded a separatist sect known as the "Old Lutherans" (1830). The Government used very oppressive measures against these nonconformists, but in 1845 the new king, Frederick William IV, recognized them as an independent Lutheran sect. In 1860 the Old Lutherans were greatly reduced in numbers by the defection of Pastor Diedrich, who organized the independent Immanuel Synod. There were also separatist movements outside of Silesia. Free Lutheran Churches were established by dissenters in Hesse, Hanover, Baden, and Saxony. A supernaturalist movement, which defended the Divinely inspired character of the Bible, started a reaction against the principle of rationalism in theology. The centenary jubilees of 1817 and the following years, which recalled the early days of Lutheranism, brought with them a revival of former orthodoxy. The theological faculties of several universities became strictly Lutheran in their teachings. Since then there has been a persistent and bitter struggle between rationalistic and Evangelical tendencies in the United and Free Churches.

(2) The Lutherans in Denmark and Scandinavia.

(a) Denmark

By the Union of Calmar (1397), Sweden, Norway, and Denmark became a united kingdom under the King of Denmark. The despotic Christian II (1513-23) endeavoured to introduce the Reformation, but was overthrown by his barons. Frederick I of Schleswig-Holstein, his successor, openly professed Lutheranism in 1526. At the Diet of Odense (1527) he obtained a measure which guaranteed equal rights to his coreligionists, and two years later he proclaimed Lutheranism the only true religion. Under his successor, Christian III (1533-59), the Catholic bishops were deprived of their sees, and the Lutheran Church of Denmark was organized with the king as supreme bishop. The Diet of Copenhagen (1546) enacted penal laws, which deprived Catholics of civil rights and forbade priests to remain in Denmark under pain of death. The opposition of Iceland to the new religion was put down by force (1550). German rationalism was propagated in Denmark by Clausen. Among its opponents was Grundtvig, leader of the Grundtvigian movement (1824), which advocated the acceptance of the Apostles' Creed as the sole rule of faith. Freedom of religious worship was granted in 1849.

(b) Norway

Norway, which was united with Denmark, became Lutheran during the reigns of Frederick I and Christian III. Rationalism, introduced from Denmark, made great progress in Norway. It was opposed by Hauge and by Norwegian followers of Grundtvig. A Free Apostolic Church was founded by Adolph Lammers about 1850, but later reunited with the state church. Norway passed laws of toleration in 1845, but still excludes the Jesuits.

(c) Sweden

Sweden was freed from the Danish yoke by Gustavus Vasa in 1521, and two years later the liberator was chosen king. Almost from the outset of his reign he showed himself favourable to Lutherans, and by cunning and violence succeeded in introducing the new religion into his kingdom. In 1529 the Reformation was formally established by the Assembly of Orebro, and in 1544 the ancient Faith was put under the ban of the law. The reign of Eric XIV (1560-8) was marked by violent conflicts between the Lutherans and the Calvinists. The latter party was favoured by the king, and their defeat in 1568 was followed by Eric's dethronement. His successor, John III (1568-92), conferred with Gregory XIII on a reunion of Sweden with the Catholic Church, but, as the pope could not grant all the concessions demanded by the king, the negotiations were unsuccessful. The next king, Sigismund (1592-1604), was a Catholic, but, as he lived in Poland (of which he was king from 1587), the Government of Sweden was administered by his uncle Duke Charles of Sudermanland, a zealous Lutheran, who used the power at his command to secure his proclamation as King Charles IX in the Assembly of Nordkoeping (1604). The successor of Charles was the famous general and statesman, Gustavus Adolphus (1611-32). For the part he took in the Thirty Years War, he is venerated by Lutherans as the religious hero of their Church, but it is now admitted that reasons of state led Gustavus into that conflict. He was succeeded by his only daughter Christina, who became a Catholic and abdicated in 1654. By a law of 1686 all persons in the kingdom were required under severe penalties to conform to the state Church. A law passed in 1726 against religious conventicles was rigidly enforced against the Swedish Pietists (L├Ąsare) from 1803 till its repeal in 1853. The law against religious dissidents was not removed from the statute books till 1873. The Swedish Church is entirely controlled by the state, and the strict orthodoxy which was enforced prevented at first any serious inroads of Rationalism. But since 1866 there has formed within the state Church a "progressive party", whose purpose is to abandon all symbols and to laicize the church. The two universities of Upsala and Lund are orthodox. The Grand Duchy of Finland, formerly united to Sweden, but now (since 1809) a Province of Russia, maintains Lutheranism as the national Church.

(3) Lutheranism in Other Countries of Europe

(a) Poland

Lutheranism was introduced into Poland during the reign of Sigismund I (1501-48) by young men who had made their studies at Wittenberg. The new teachings were opposed by the king, but had the powerful support of the nobility. From Danzig they spread to the cities of Thorn and Elbing, and, during the reign of Sigismund II (1548-72), steadily gained ground. A union symbol was drawn up and signed by the Protestants at Sandomir in 1570, and three years later they concluded a religious peace with the Catholics, in which it was agreed that all parties should enjoy equal civil rights. The peace was not lasting, and during two centuries there was almost continual religious strife which finally led to the downfall of the kingdom. With the connivance of Poland, Lutheranism was established in the territories of the Teutonic Order, East Prussia (1525), Livonia (1539), and Courland (1561).

(b) Hungary, Transylvania and Silesia

The teachings of Luther were first propagated in these countries during the reign of King Louis II of Hungary and Bohemia (1516-26). The king was strongly opposed to religious innovation, but after his death civil discords enabled the new doctrine to gain headway. In Silesia Lutheranism was protected by the dukes, and in 1524 it was established in Breslau, the capital, by the municipal council. Freedom of worship was granted in Transylvania in 1545, and in Hungary in 1606. The Lutherans were soon involved in quarrels with the Calvinists. The German element among the Protestants favoured the Augsburg Confession, but the Reformed faith had more adherents among the Hungarians and Czechs. In Silesia the Lutherans themselves were divided on the doctrine of justification and the Eucharist. Gaspar Schwenkfeld (died 1561), one of the earliest disciples of Luther, assailed his master's doctrine on these points, and as early as 1528 Schwenkfeldianism had many adherents among Lutherans. The memory of Schwenkfeld is still held in veneration in Silesia and in some Lutheran communities of Pennsylvania. Lutheranism made some gains in the hereditary states of Austria and in Bohemia during the reigns of Ferdinand 1 (1556-64) and Maximilian II (1564-76). The Lutherans of Bohemia rebelled against the imperial authority in 1618, but were defeated, and the Catholic Faith was preserved in the Hapsburg dominions. (See AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN MONARCHY; HUNGARY.)

(c) Holland

Holland was one of the first countries to receive the doctrines of Luther. Emperor Charles V, anxious to avert the disorders which followed the Reformation in Germany, used great severity against those who propagated Lutheranism in the Netherlands. His son, Philip II of Spain (1556-98), was still more rigorous. The measures he employed were often despotic and unjust, and the people rose in a rebellion (1568), by which Holland was lost to Spain. Meanwhile the relations between the Lutherans and Calvinists were anything but cordial. The Reformed party gradually gained the ascendancy, and, when the republic was established, their political supremacy enabled them to subject the Lutherans to many annoying restrictions. The Dutch Lutherans fell a prey to Rationalism in the eighteenth century. A number of the churches and pastors separated from the main body to adhere more closely to the Augsburg Confession. The liberal party has a theological seminary (founded in 1816) at Amsterdam, while the orthodox provide for theological training by lectures in the university of the same city.

(4) Lutherans in America

(a) Period of Foundation (1624-1742)

Lutherans were among the earliest European settlers on this continent. Their first representatives came from Holland to the Dutch colony of New Netherlands about 1624. Under Governor Stuyvesant they were obliged to conform to the Reformed services, but freedom of worship was obtained when New Amsterdam (New York) was captured by the English in 1664. The second distinct body of Lutherans in America arrived from Sweden in 1637. Two years later they had a minister and organized at Fort Christina (now Wilmington, Delaware), the first Lutheran congregation in the New World. After 1771 the Swedes of Delaware and Pennsylvania dissolved their union with the Mother Church of Sweden. As they had no English-speaking ministers, they chose their pastors from the Episcopalian Church. Since 1846 these congregations have declared full communion with the Episcopalians. The first colony of German Lutherans was from the Palatinate. They arrived in 1693 and founded Germantown, now a part of Philadelphia. During the eighteenth century large numbers of Lutheran emigrants from Alsace, the Palatinate, and W├╝rtemberg settled along the Hudson River. On the Atlantic coast, in New Jersey, Virginia, North and South Carolina, were many isolated groups of German Lutherans. A colony of Lutherans from Salzburg founded the settlement of Ebenezer, Georgia, in 1734. In Eastern Pennsylvania about 30,000 German Lutherans had settled before the middle of the eighteenth century. Three of their congregations applied to Europe for ministers, and Count Zinzendorf became pastor in Philadelphia in 1741.

(b) Period of Organization (1742-87)

In 1742 Rev. Henry Muhlenberg, a Hanoverian who is regarded as the patriarch of American Lutheranism, arrived in Philadelphia and succeeded Zinzendorf in the pastorate. During the forty-five years of his ministry in America, Muhlenberg presided over widely separated congregations and erected many churches. He began the work of organization among the Lutherans of America by the foundation of the Synod of Pennsylvania in 1748. He also prepared the congregational constitution of St. Michael's Church, Philadelphia, which became the model of similar constitutions throughout the country. His son, Rev. Frederick Muhlenberg, afterwards speaker in the first House of Representatives, was the originator of the Ministerium of New York, the second synod in America (1773).

(c) Period of Deterioration (1787-1817)

Muhlenherg and the other German pastors of his time were graduates of the University of Halle. The generation that succeeded them had made their studies in the same institution. But the Pietism of the founders of Halle had now made way for the destructive criticism of Semler. The result was soon manifest in the indifferentism of the American Churches. The Pennsylvania Ministerium eliminated all confessional tests in its constitution of 1792. The New York ministerium, led by Dr. Frederick Quitman, a decided Rationalist, substituted for the older Lutheran catechisms and hymn-books works that were more conformable to the prevailing theology. The agenda, or service-book adopted by the Pennsylvania Lutherans in 1818, was a departure from the old type of service and the expression of new doctrinal standards. The transition from the use of German to English caused splits in many congregations, the German party bitterly opposing the introduction of English in the church services. They even felt that they had more in common with the German-speaking Reformed than with the English-speaking Lutherans, and some of them advocated an Evangelical Union such as was then proposed in Prussia.

(d) Period of Revival and Expansion (1817-60)

To prevent the threatened disintegration, a union of all the Lutheran synods in America was proposed. In 1820 the General Synod was organized at Hagerstown, Pennsylvania, but a few of the district synods stood aloof. The new organization was regarded with suspicion by many, and in 1823 the mother synod of Pennsylvania itself withdrew from the general body. From the beginning there was a considerable element within the General Synod which favoured doctrinal compromise with the Reformed Church. To strengthen the conservative party, the Pennsylvania Synod returned to the General Synod in 1853. Meanwhile the General Synod had established the theological seminary at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania (1825), and societies for home and foreign missions. In the West several ecclesiastical organizations were formed by Lutheran emigrants from Saxony, Prussia, Bavaria, and the Scandinavian countries. The Missouri Synod was founded by Rev. Carl Walther in 1847, and the same year opened a theological seminary at St. Louis. A band of Old Lutherans, who resisted the Prussian union, emigrated from Saxony in 1839, and two years later founded the Buffalo Synod. At first a union between the Missouri and the Buffalo synods was expected, but instead their leaders were soon engaged in doctrinal controversies which extended over many years. In 1854 a party within the Missouri Synod, dissatisfied with what it regarded as the extreme congregationalism of that body and its denial of open questions in theology, seceded and formed the Iowa Synod with its theological seminary at Dubuque. Ever since there has been conflict between these two synods. Travelling preachers of the Pennsylvania Ministerium founded in Ohio a conference in connexion with the mother synod in 1805. This conference was reorganized in 1818 into a synod which since 1833 has been known as the Joint Synod of Ohio. The earliest synods formed by Scandinavian emigrants were:

the Norwegian Hauge Synod (1846),

the Norwegian Synod (1863), and

the Scandinavian Augustana Synod (1860),

all in the states of the Middle West.

(e) Period of Reorganization (since 1860)

At the beginning of the Civil War the General Synod numbered two-thirds of the Lutherans in the United States, and hopes were entertained that soon all the organizations would be united in one body. These anticipations, however, were doomed to disappointment. In 1863 the General Synod lost the five southern district synods, which withdrew and formed the "General Synod of the Confederate States". A more serious break in the General Synod occurred three years later. The disagreements between the liberal and the conservative elements in that body had not abated with time. In 1864 the Ministerium of Pennsylvania established in Philadelphia a new seminary, thereby greatly reducing the attendance at the Gettysburg seminary of the General Synod. At the next convention (1866) it was declared that the Pennsylvania Synod was no longer in practical union with the General Synod. The Pennsylvania Ministerium at once sent out an invitation to all American and Canadian synods to join with it in forming a new general body. In response to this invitation a convention assembled at Reading the same year, and thirteen synods were consolidated into the "General Council". With the close of the Civil War the Southern Lutherans might have returned to fellowship with their Northern brethren, but the controversy between the Northern synods determined them to perpetuate their own organization. In 1886 they reorganized their general body, taking the name of the "United Synod in the South", and stating their doctrinal position, which is essentially the same as that of the General Council. A fourth general body was formed in 1872, the "Synodical Conference", at present the strongest organization among the Lutheran Churches of America. It takes as its basis the Formula of Concord of 1580, and comprises the Missouri and other Western synods. A controversy on predestination led to the withdrawal of the Ohio Synod in 1881, and of the Norwegian Synod in 1884. There are still many independent synods not affiliated with any of the general organizations. Thus the Lutherans of the United States are divided into various conflicting bodies, each claiming to be a truer exponent of Lutheranism than the others. The membership of the four principal organizations is almost exclusively of German descent. The main cause of separation is diversity of opinion regarding the importance or the interpretation of the official confessions.


In the early days of the Reformation the prevalent form of government was that known as the episcopal, which transferred the jurisdiction of the bishops to the civil ruler. It was followed by the territorial system, which recognized the sovereign as head of the church, in virtue of his office, both in administrative and doctrinal matters. The collegial system of Pfaff (1719) asserts the sovereignty and independence of the congregation, which may, however, delegate its authority to the State. In the Lutheran state Churches the secular power is in fact the supreme authority. The practical determination of religious questions rests with the national legislature, or with a consistorium whose members are appointed by the government. No Divinely constituted hierarchy is recognized, and in orders all the clergy are considered as equals. The Lutheran bishops of Sweden and Denmark, like the "general superintendents" of Germany, are government officials entrusted with the oversight of the pastors and congregations. In Holland and the United States, as among the Free Churches of Germany, the form of organization is synodical, a system of church polity which in its main features has been derived from the Reformed Church. According to this plan, purely congregational matters are decided by the vote of the congregation, either directly or through the church council. In the United States the church council consists of the pastor and his lay assistants, the elders and deacons, all chosen by the congregation. Affairs of more general importance and disputed questions are settled by the district synod, composed of lay and clerical delegates representing such congregations as have accepted a mutual congregational compact. The congregations composing a district synod may unite with other district synods to form a more general body. The powers of a general organization of this kind, in relation to the bodies of which it is composed, are not, however, in all cases the same. The constitution of the Old Lutheran Church in Germany makes its General Synod the last court of appeal and its decisions binding. In the United States a different conception prevails, and in most instances the general assemblies are regarded simply as advisory conferences whose decisions require the ratification of the particular organizations represented.

Lutheran public worship is based on the service-book which Luther published in 1523 and 1526. He retained the first part of the Mass, but abolished the Offertory, Canon, and all the forms of sacrifice. The main Lutheran service is still known as "the Mass" in Scandinavian countries. The singing of hymns became a prominent part of the new service. Many Catholic sequences were retained, and other sacred songs were borrowed from the old German poets. Luther himself wrote hymns, but it is doubtful whether he is really the author of any of the melodies that are usually ascribed to him. Luther wished to retain the Elevation and the use of the Latin language, but these have been abandoned. The Collect, Epistle, and Gospel vary according to the Sundays of the year. The Creed is followed by a sermon on the Scripture lesson of the day, which is the principal part of the service. Ordinarily the Lord's Supper is administered only a few times during the year. It is preceded, sometimes the day before, by the service of public confession and absolution, which consists in the promise of amendment made by the intending communicants, and the declaration of the minister that such as are truly penitent are forgiven. Only two sacraments are recognized by Lutherans, Baptism and the Lord's Supper; but Confirmation, Ordination, and Confession as just described are regarded as sacred rites. There are also ceremonies prescribed for marriage and burial. Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, the feast of the Twelve Apostles, the Commemoration of the Reformation (31 Oct.) are observed with religious services. Pictures are permitted in the churches, and in Denmark vestments and lighted candles are used at the communion service. The first complete ritual or agenda was that prepared for the Duchy of Prussia in 1525. There is no uniform liturgy for the churches. In the United Evangelical Church of Germany the agenda of Frederick William III (1817) is the official form. The services of the American Lutherans were for many years chiefly extemporaneous, but since 1888 a common service based on the liturgies of the sixteenth century has been used by almost all English-speaking Lutherans in this country. It includes, besides the main service, matins and vespers.


(1) Foreign Missions and Benevolent Organizations

Foreign missionary activity has never been a very prominent characteristic of the Lutheran Church. Its pioneer missionaries went from the University of Halle to the East Indies (Tanquebar) at the invitation of Frederick IV of Denmark in 1705. During the eighteenth century Halle sent about sixty missionaries to Tanquebar. In later years the mission was supplied by the Leipzig Lutheran Mission. Another Danish mission was that of Pastor Hans Egede among the Greenlanders in 1721. During the nineteenth century several societies for foreign missions were founded: the Berlin Mission Society (1824), the Evangelical Lutheran Missionary Association of Leipzig (1836), the Hermansburg Society (1854), and a number of similar organizations in the Scandinavian countries. In the United States a German Foreign Missionary Society was founded in 1837. The first Lutheran missionary from the United States was Dr. Heyer, who was sent to India in 1841. At present missions to the heathen in Oceania, India, and East Africa, are maintained under the auspices of various American synods. The sisterhood, known as the Lutheran Deaconesses, was founded by Pastor Fliedner at Kaiserwerth in 1833, its objects being the care of the sick, instruction, etc. They are now very numerous in some parts of Germany. They were introduced in the United States in 1849.

(2) Sacred Learning and Education

The study of exegetics, church history, and theology has been much cultivated by Lutheran scholars. Among the exegetes the following are well known: Solomon Glassius (Philologia Sacra, 1623); Sebastian Schmid (died 1696), translator and commentator; John H. Michaelis (Biblia Hebraica, 1720); John A. Bengel (Gnomon Novi Testamenti, 1752); Havernick (died 1845), Hegstenberg (died 1869), and Delitzsch (died 1890), commentators. Among the more important church historians may be mentioned: Mosheim (died 1755), sometimes called the "Father of Modern Church History", Schrockle (died 1808), Neander (died 1850), Kurtz (died 1890), Hase (died 1890). The "Magdeburg Centuries" (1559) of Flacius Illyricus and his associates, the first church history written by Protestants, is very biased and has no historical value. Numerous dogmatic works have been written by Lutheran theologians. Among the dogmaticians most esteemed by Lutherans are: Melanchthon, whose "Loci Theologici" (1521) was the first Lutheran theology; Martin Chemnitz (died 1586) and John Gerhard (died 1637), the two ablest Lutheran theologians; Calovius (died 1686), champion of the strictest Lutheran orthodoxy; Quenstedt (died 1688); Hollaz (died 1713); Luthardt (died 1902); Henry Schmid, whose dogmatic theology (1st ed., 1843) in its English translation has been much used in the United States. The Lutheran Church still produces many dogmatic works, but very few of the modern divines hold strictly to the old formul├Ž of faith. The Lutheran Churches deserve great credit for the importance they have always attached to religious instruction, not only in their many universities, but also and especially in the schools of elementary instruction. In Lutheran countries the education of the children is supervised by the religious authorities, since Lutherans act on the principle that religious training is the most important part of education. The catechism, Biblical study, and church music have a prominent part in the everyday instruction. In the United States the parochial school has been developed with great success among the congregations that still use the German and Scandinavian languages. The Lutherans of Wisconsin and Illinois co-operated with the Catholics in 1890 in an organized resistance against legislation which would have proved injurious to the parochial schools.


The popular faith had been overthrown in the eighteenth century by the philosophy of Wolff (died 1754) and the criticism of Semler (died 1791). The principle of the supremacy of reason was used to tear down belief in the inspired character of Holy Writ. The literature and philosophy of the time show how great a blow was dealt to orthodox Lutheranism. Theology, now become the handmaid of philosophy, eagerly accepted amid the prevailing doubt and negation the system of Kant (died 1804), which made the essence of religion and the whole value of Scripture consist in the teaching of the morality of reason or natural ethics. Against this rationalistic theology there arose about the beginning of the nineteenth century two reactionary movements - Supernaturalism, which declared in favour of the undivided supremacy of faith, and the system of Schleiermacher (died 1834), which made sentiment or the feelings of the heart the criterion of religious truth. The teachings of Schleiermacher recast the existing theology, and gave it the bent which it afterwards followed. A still more thoroughgoing rationalism appeared in the writings of the Hegelian Strauss (died 1874) and of the T├╝bingen school, which aimed at the utter destruction of the Divine basis of Christian faith by explaining all that is supernatural in Scripture as merely natural or mythical. These bold attacks were met by many able scholars, and they have long since been discredited. Since the days of Strauss and Bauer (died 1860), the method known as Higher Criticism (see CRITICISM, BIBLICAL) has found favour in Germany, both with the rationalistic and the orthodox Protestant. Much that is of permanent value as an aid to the scientific study of the Bible has been accomplished, but at the same time Rationalism has been making constant gains, not only in the universities, but also amongst the masses. The strictly confessional theology of the orthodox revival (1817), the neo-Lutheran movement, whose leanings toward the Catholic Faith gave it the name of German Puseyism, the Compromise Theology, which endeavoured to reconcile believers and Rationalists - all these more or less conservative systems are now to a great extent superseded by the modern or free theology, represented by Pfieiderer (died 1906), Wilhelm Hermann, Tr├Âltsch, Harnack, Weinel, and others, which teaches a religion without creed or dogma. In Germany, especially in the cities, the Evangelical faith has lost its influence not only with the people, but in great part with the preachers themselves. The same is true to some extent in the Scandinavian countries, where Rationalism is making inroads on Lutheran orthodoxy. In the United States the Lutherans have been more conservative, and thus far have preserved more of their confessional spirit.


The number of Lutherans in the world is about fifty millions, a membership which far exceeds that of any other Protestant denomination. The chief Lutheran country today, as from the beginning, is Germany. In 1905 the Evangelicals (Lutherans and Reformed) in the German Empire numbered 37,646,852. The membership of the Lutheran churches in other European countries is as follows: Sweden (1900), 5,972,792; Russia, chiefly in Finland and the Baltic Provinces (1905), 3,572,653; Denmark (1901), 2,400,000; Norway (1900) 2,197,318; Hungary (1906), 1,288,942. Austria and Holland have about 494,000 and 110,000 Lutherans respectively. According to a bulletin of the Bureau of the U.S. Census the total membership of the 24 Lutheran bodies in the United States in 1906 was 2,112,494, with 7841 ministers, 11,194 church edifices, and church property valued at $74,826 389 Dr. H. K. Carroll's statistics of the Churches of the United States for 1909 credits the Lutherans with 2,173,047 communicants.

Publication information Written by J.A. McHugh. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York


I. JACOBS, The Book of Concord (Philadelphia. 1893); SCHAFF, The Creeds of Christendom (5th ed., New York, 1890), I, II; SCHMID, Doct. Theol. of Evang. Luth. Church (Philadelphia, 1889). II. For the history of Lutheranism in Europe consult the bibliographies under the religious history of the various countries. For the history of Lutheranism in the United States: JACOBS, History of the Evang. Lutheran Church in the U. S. (New York, 1893) in American Church History Series, IV (with extensive bibliog.); WOLF, The Lutherans in America (New York, 1889). III. 2. HORN, Outlines of Liturgies (Philadelphia, 1890). V. HURST, Hist. of Rationalism (New York, 1865); VIGOUROUX, Les Livres Saints et la Critique Rationaliste, II (Paris, 1886), 311-556. VI. Kirchliches Jahrbuch (published at G├╝tersloh); Lutheran Church Annual; Lutheran Year Book.

Also, see:
Martin Luther
Luther's Small Catechism
Luther's 95 Theses
Book of Concord. Formula of Concord
Augsburg Confession

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