FOUR CORE LUTHERAN BELIEFS
Justification by grace. Grace is the expression of God’s love by which he takes from us the guilt and penalty for our sins, and lays them on his Son, Jesus Christ, who carried them to the cross on which he died. In this way, Jesus paid for our sins and God then extends his forgiveness to us. Also, because Jesus was totally innocent of all sin, that is, he perfectly obeyed his Father in heaven, in baptism we are washed in and covered with his righteousness. This saving work is motivated by God’s grace alone.
One cannot buy grace or earn it. One cannot gain God’s grace by doing good works. It is a pure gift from God. One can respond to God’s gift by trusting in God’s promise to work out our salvation in this way. That is called faith, and therefore the whole experience is expressed in the following way: We are saved (justified or declared not guilty) by God’s grace which is made effective through faith (trust) that God does indeed, do what God has said God will do. Even such trust is the work of God’s Spirit within and among us.
If it is true (we cannot buy or earn God’s grace), of what value are good works? They are one’s response of trust in the promises of God (faith) and one’s response of gratitude for what God has done for us.
Scriptural source: Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— 9 not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
The authority of Scripture. The Bible is the first and foremost foundation of our faith. All Lutheran teaching must be supported by scriptures. None may run contrary to them. Lutherans read the Old and New Testaments of the Bible as the record of God’s promises (Old Testament) and the fulfillment of those promises (New Testament). In the Old Testament, God promised one who would come and save God’s people and in the New Testament, God fulfilled that promise through Jesus Christ.
Lutherans, as best we can, read and interpret the scriptures as the original authors intended, paying attention to concepts the first readers would have understood. Lutherans also consider the forms in which the Bible is written – poetry (Psalms), proverbial sayings (Proverbs), history, (Joshua – 2 Chronicles), and stories that were never written to express a literal event but expose a truth nevertheless (Jesus’s parables). We believe there is no conflict between the Bible and science. For example, science may explain the HOW of creation, but the Bible reveals the WHO of creation – namely, God.
In preaching or teaching from the Bible, Lutherans tend to focus on a section of scriptures, exposing it as Law and Gospel. The Law which we do not obey exposes our sinful nature, while the Gospel (which means “Good News”) exposes God’s answer to our sin, namely the forgiveness won by Jesus on the cross. This style of preaching discourages messages that take verses out of context to support a point.
Scriptural source: 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. Another reading is: “All scripture that is inspired by God, is useful…
The Priesthood of all Believers. The teaching of the priesthood of all believers holds that there is no longer a priestly class within God’s people, but that all believers share in Christ’s priestly status by virtue of their union with Christ in Baptism. Although there was a select group of priests in the Old Testament system who mediated the knowledge, presence, and forgiveness of God to the rest of Israel, Christ came and fulfilled the priestly role through his life, death, and resurrection. Therefore, Christ is the final priestly mediator between God and God’s people, and Christians share in that role through by being united to him. Christians are not dependent upon the priests within the church to interpret scriptures for them (assuming the believer is willing to take the time to read and study them). Nor are the priest the only ones who can affect God’s blessing of forgiveness. This does not mean that we should do away with ordained pastors. By those authorities God blesses his church with instruction in sound doctrine because they devote a significant portion of their time studying those writings. Some implications:
- Any believer can pronounce God’s forgiveness
- Any believer can effectively pray. Their prayers are heard and answered just as much as those of the clergy.
- Any believer can and should read and interpret scripture.
- God is just as involved in any believer’s secular occupation as in ordained ministry, and within the church itself there is no higher class of clergy that is closer to God or whose spiritual gifts are more important.
Biblical source: You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
Christian Freedom: We are set free from the power of sin and from sin’s punishment – which is death. Jesus’s death on the cross has secured that freedom. We are also freed from obedience to the Law as the means of one’s salvation. However, Christian freedom does not mean that we can do whatever we wish. Rather, we are set free to freely serve others. We do so, not because a law that is imposed on us tells us we must or should do so, but because, out of love for one another, we delight in doing so. There is no more living with resentment saying, “Do I have to…?” Rather, we live under the law of love, sometimes giving away our “rights” because another’s need makes a higher claim. Martin Luther expressed Christian Freedom as a paradox. “A Christian is a perfectly free Lord, subject to no one, and, at the same time, a Christian is a dutiful servant subject to everyone.”
Scriptural source: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1
Then, a few verses later Paul wrote, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. 14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15 Galatians 5:13-15