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The Christian family includes several dozens of Lutheran denominations that have emerged from the writings and teachings of Martin Luther, A German theologian who intended, not to create a new church, but to reform the Roman Catholic Church.

Luther set out to bring reformation to Catholicism, but the Catholic Church refused to change its ways. Luther was excommunicated by the pope, and Luther refused to recognize the authority of the pope. He didn't do so alone, of course, but Luther became one of the fathers of the Protestant Reformation.

Luther argued that people are not forgiven of their sins by good works, and that church rites were not necessary for absolution, but that repentant sinners could turn directly to God and achieve absolution for their sins with the help of the Holy Spirit. Justification is attained by faith alone, not through ceremonies.

Although Luther did not set out to create a new church, his followers were named for him, and called Lutherans. Luther didn't coin the term, preferring the term Evangelical. It was first used by his detractors as a point of derision.

In time, Luther and his associates codified a set of beliefs and practices. In 1529, Luther wrote his Large Catechism and his Small Catechism. In 1537, the Schmalkald Articles of Faith were completed. These documents explained the theology of Lutheranism and formed its doctrinal basis. Luther also wrote several hymns, some of which are throughout the Protestant world yet today, such as A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Most prominent in Germany, Lutheranism soon spread to Austria, Bohemia, France, Holland, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Russia, becoming the state church of Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, Norway, and Sweden.

Lutherans arrived in what is now the United States from Sweden in the early 1600s. The first Lutheran service in America was a Christmas service held at Hudson Bay in 1619.

Successive waves of Lutheran immigrants made Lutheranism one of the larger Christian denominations in the United States. From 1850 to 1860 alone, a million Germans arrived from Europe, most of whom were Lutheran. The American Civil War brought the first serious break in Lutheranism, with the organization of the United Synod of the South in 1863. Over the next few years, other synods withdrew from the General Synod. Between 1870 and 1910, nearly two million Scandinavians arrived, bringing another form of Lutheranism, and establishing new synods. At one time, there were about a hundred and fifty Lutheran bodies in the United States, but consolidations, unifications, and federations have reduced that number to just over forty. The largest merger was in 1988 when the American Lutheran Church merged with the Lutheran Church in America and the Association of Evangelical Lutheran Churches to form the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Regardless of divisions, there has been a large degree of unity among Lutheran factions, particularly in matters of faith.

Each national church developed its own organizational structure and style of worship, but most Lutheran churches ascribe to the Book of Concord, developed by consensus in 1577. Some Lutheran churches have departed from this book, becoming more theologically liberal. Lutherans have retained many of the liturgical practices and sacramental teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, with an emphasis on the Lord's Supper, or Eucharist.

Lutherans maintain that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and the standard for faith and practice. Lutherans hold to the Apostles' Creed, Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, as well as the Augsburg Confession, although there is some disagreement over versions. The Large and Small Catechisms of Luther, the Schmalkaldic Articles, and the Formula of Concord are considered to be faithful interpretations of Lutheranism by most Lutheran bodies.

Baptism and the Lord's Supper are viewed as channels through which God bestows grace upon mankind, and the real blood and body of Christ are believed to be present in the Eucharist. Pastors baptize the infant children of church members, upon which the gift of regeneration is given through the Holy Spirit.

Between annual meetings, local congregations are administered by a church council, which consists of the pastor and a group of elected lay officers. Pastors are called by the voting members of the congregation. Congregations are united in synods made of pastors and elected lay representatives, who have authority granted by the synod constitution. Sometimes known as conferences or districts, synods are united in a general body that may be national or international. These may be legislative or consultative in nature, depending on the denomination. They supervise the work of the church in charity, education, missions, publication, and worship.


American Association of Lutheran Churches

Apostolic Lutheran Church

Association of Free Lutheran Congregations

Church of the Lutheran Brethren

Church of the Lutheran Confession

Evangelical Lutheran Church

Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod

North American Lutheran Church



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