So What's a Lutheran, Anyway?
A Lutheran is, first and foremost, a Christian and a disciple of Jesus Christ. But there are certain beliefs and practices which characterize the Lutheran understanding of the Christian faith.
So, what does a Lutheran believe? Along with millions of other Christians, we confess our faith in the words of three ancient 'Ecumenical Creeds,' or 'formulas of faith' that have shaped the Church since the second Century AD. The oldest is the Apostles' Creed. The Second is the Nicene (Constantinople) Creed. The third is the Athanasian Creed.
We believe the Holy Scriptures, the Bible, is the Word of God, and as such gives us God's Law, and God's Gospel.
The Law of God tells us how to live as God's children, as we were created to live - but it also lets us know that, on our own, that is impossible for us to do. So, the law drives us to our need for God. And that's where we find the Gospel (which means GOOD NEWS!)
The Gospel of God tells us that through the power of Jesus' life, death and resurrection, we are forgiven, made new, and set free. We receive the gift of the Holy Spirit - the very Spirit that was alive in Jesus lives in us. The Holy Spirit gives us love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, generosity and self-control - forming us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. The more we are like Jesus, the closer we are to our best selves - who we are created to be.
We are EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN (ELCA).
We are Evangelical in that we proclaim the Gospel (good news!) first and foremost. We're Lutheran because we belong to that tradition, tracing our heritage to Martin Luther and the reformation.
We Lutherans also use a series of documents from the era of the Reformation called the Lutheran Confessions, gathered together into a Book of Concord, published in 1580. Among the documents you'll find there are the Augsburg Confession, which Philip Melanchthon wrote to define the Reformation movement that Luther spearheaded in Germany in the 1520's. There are other longer documents, and then there are the two catechisms, or teaching documents. The shorter of these is Luther's Small Catechism, which includes explanations of these five gifts of faith: The Ten Commandments, the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles' Creed, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion, and Confession and Absolution. Lutherans see these as important guides for faith and life.
Lutherans treat these 'Confessions' as a LENS to bring the Bible into focus. They are not Scripture, but they can help us understand the bible. Anyone reading the bible, reads through a lens of some sort - their own experience, culture, context... The Lutheran lens puts Jesus always in the center and makes grace the primary gift and process. In Jesus we experience the Way, the Truth and the Life eternal - here and now.
Lutherans stay on that WAY by regularly doing two things: Hearing God's word and celebrating the Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion). That's how Luther and Melanchthon described the Church: The place where the Gospel is proclaimed (rightly) and the sacraments are celebrated (rightly). We can quibble about how 'rightly' any congregation does these things, but you DO need a congregation for them to happen. So Lutherans gather. We believe that Christianity is a TEAM SPORT. We're all in this together, and no one does it all alone. God is always personal, but never private.